Meet Edward Xiong: An Unrelenting Champion
Don’t ever tell Earl Woods Scholar Edward Xiong he can’t do something—not only will he do it, he’ll do it so well he’ll knock your socks off. Born in Hangzhou, China, Eddie entered this world with more than his fair share of obstacles. But with every barrier he encountered, he worked tirelessly toward a solution.
Legally blind from birth due to congenital cataract disease, Eddie never let his visual impairment inhibit him from seeing and experiencing the world in full color. Growing up in extreme poverty and raised by a single mother, herself born with cerebral palsy, Eddie could have easily used his lack of vision as an excuse to give up. Instead, Eddie was taught to see his struggles as a gift.
“My mother taught me my weakness is also my greatest strength,” explains Eddie, “that people like us are strong because of our weakness.”
With a move from China to the United States, Eddie and his mom, Jie Xiong, were hopeful for a better life—and they found it. With access to free education and improved care options for their disabilities, Eddie and his mother began anew in Boston, Massachusetts.
While his quality of life was far better in Boston than it was in Hangzhou, having a visual barrier, coupled with a language barrier proved tough for the then eight-year-old Eddie to overcome. For Jie, watching her son become deflated by his disabilities served as an opportunity to share her own journey with him.
Born in China in the 1960’s, Jie understood firsthand the challenges her only child dealt with. Her life with cerebral palsy left her with extremely limited motor functions, making tasks like feeding and dressing herself all but impossible. Jie’s own mother decided early on that her daughter would not be defined or limited by her disease. Pushed by her parents, Jie learned to write. She worked hard in school, staying up till all hours to complete her homework and study for exams.
“She graduated with a degree in database keeping, becoming one of the few people with a severe disability to ever graduate from college in China at that time,” Eddie shared with immense pride in his voice.
It’s clear to anyone who meets Eddie, it’s his mother that’s left the biggest mark on him. Her own perseverance instilled in him a die-hard determination to succeed.
“Listen, don’t let people tell you that you are incapable because of your eyes, it is because of your eyes that you can and will be strong, strong enough to do what you think you cannot,” Eddie recalls his mom saying to him.
Eddie took his mom’s words and embedded them in his head and heart. Once he mastered English, there was no stopping Eddie. With assistance from local programs like the Steppingstone Foundation, not only did he do well in school, he excelled at it. He earned a spot for himself at the prestigious and highly competitive public middle and high school, Boston Latin.
Eddie learned early on that building a support system was key to his success. He sought out opportunities wherever he could from organizations like the Earl Woods Scholar Program and the Red Sox Foundation in order to gain the financial and emotional support necessary for him to attend college.
“I would not have been able to make it this far by myself,” Eddie readily admits.
And by all accounts, Eddie has made it pretty far. Now a junior at Northeastern University in Boston, he’s not only blazing a trail for himself, he’s setting it on fire. Challenging norms and expectations, Eddie is embracing his longtime love of art and drawing by pursuing a bachelor’s degree in graphic design. With a goal of working in the nonprofit sector, Eddie is focused on using his artistic talents to help others thrive.
“My goal is to use design to make a positive impact on the community around me,” he explains. “And I am not going to let my vision stop me from doing what I love.”
This semester, Eddie is participating in the university’s work-study program, working full time in the marketing department for Northeastern’s Department of Co-op Education and Career Development. He’s using his graphic design skills to create and manage content for the Northeastern University Careers website.
When he’s not working, Eddie also takes part in the university’s Student Government Association, where he helps the events and communications committee as a graphic designer. And besides being a talented graphic artist, Eddie is also a novelist, having written four online novels, all available on his blog. But his true passion is magic. Fully self-taught, Eddie’s skills as a magician had his entire cohort of Earl Woods Scholars standing in amazement during their most recent gathering in California last winter.
For Cristina Fernández, senior director of the Earl Woods Scholar Program, it’s no surprise that Eddie has already accomplished so much in such a short time.
“From the first read of Eddie’s application and the in-person interview, I knew he was a special young man,” Cristina shared. “He never came from a place of deficit. His challenges are something that are just a part of his ‘normal’ life.”
What’s more, Eddie has made it a point to surround himself with mentors, peers, faculty and friends that guide him in all he does, knowing full well that having a support system in place allows him to thrive exponentially. Through the Earl Woods Scholar Program, Eddie was paired with mentor Jeffrey Pond, a CFA Charterholder and Director at Deutsche Asset Management in Boston, who has formed a genuine bond with Eddie.
“Eddie is an incredible example of a champion,” said Jeffrey. “He has some unique circumstances in his life, including his mother’s health and his own lack of sight, but he manages these situations seamlessly. He also has a positive attitude and genuine personality which serve him well. It is these characteristics that help Eddie utilize resources to empower himself and chart his future. Eddie is an individual who looks beyond his challenges and seeks opportunities.”
And for Eddie, having his mentor by his side has proven to be invaluable.
“It’s really great that I have a person that is easy to talk to and can guide me,” Eddie shared about his mentor. “Not many people have that. And life can be hard, so I feel lucky to have Jeff. Having a mentor is one of the highlights of the program for me.”
Just beneath Eddie’s drive and determination sits his profound appreciation for those who have helped him.
“Eddie is always willing to provide support in any way to the program and the Tiger Woods Foundation,” explains Cristina. “It was his communication with the administration at Northeastern University that led us to host our first STEM conference in Boston at that location.”
The Tiger Woods Foundation and the Earl Woods Scholar Program in many ways serves as an extension of family for Eddie.
“All the fellow scholars, the workshops in California, the phone calls, the emails, everything the foundation has done for me has shown me that I have people behind me,” Eddie said. “No matter where I go or what I do, I will always have people behind me,”
But for Eddie, the main person who has always been behind him since day one has been his mother, Jie. When he gets home from campus every evening, he shares his day with her. He cooks dinner for her, feeds her, bathes her and dresses her. This is his nightly routine. And if you ask him, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
‘I’ve been taking care of my mom for as long as I can remember. But I wouldn’t change it,” Eddie says. “She is the one that pushes me to work hard. She is the one who taught me to overcome my disability. She is the one who reminds me that no matter what happens, everything is going to be okay tomorrow. From her teachings, I learned not to let my eyes hold back my heart. It is because of her I am striving to do what I was told I cannot do. It is because of her that I will reach beyond the sky.”
Redefining what it means to be a champion.