In 1992, I was born in Seoul, Korea with three fingers missing on my right hand and my right ankle severely disfigured. My ankle meant that I had to wear a metal brace for the first few years of my life, and between my leg and my hand, my parents wondered if I’d ever be able to lead a normal life.
My own impairments inspired my father to volunteer at a home for children with disabilities in Seoul. Eventually, wishing to further his career of helping others, my father applied to American graduate programs in social work in the fall of 1998. During the winter as he awaited the admissions decisions, he rented a movie from the video store that would change his life forever – Forrest Gump.
The movie immediately resonated with my father. Seeing Forrest being bullied for his childhood disabilities reminded him so much of my own troubles, when I would struggle to keep up with other children physically because of my leg, and ask when my ‘ugly hand’ would become more like my ‘pretty hand’ after a day of teasing at school. And when he reached the scene where a crimson Forrest played football for a certain coach in a houndstooth cap, he couldn’t help but notice the letters held up by the cheering crowd, the name of one of the schools he had applied to.
The following spring, my father received three acceptance letters: one from the University of Hawaii, another from Indiana University, and the third… from the University of Alabama. He knew it had to be a sign.
And so in July of 1999, my family left Seoul, Korea for Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where Bear Bryant’s houndstooth and crimson were a staple of life. The final internship of my father’s degree program led us to northern Virginia, where I eventually attended the rigorous Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. And at Jefferson, I built the media knowledge and sheer ability to do work that I know played a huge role in getting me into the USC School of Cinematic Arts – the alma mater of Robert Zemeckis, the director of Forrest Gump.
It’s funny how things like this work out. Come this Friday, I will receive my degree from the same institution as Mr. Zemeckis did, my faith in the power of stories and their ability to shape people’s lives yet again reaffirmed.
People make movies, but movies make people, too. Forrest Gump certainly did.
EDIT: Robert Zemeckis wrote me (technically my dad) a letter!!!! http://seeplaylive.com/blog/zemeckis-writes-back/