The Current’s Co-News Editor reflects on watching her brother, Ben Choi, cross the stage at Potomac’s graduation

Kate+and+Ben+Choi+dressed+up+for+Halloween

Courtesy of Kate Choi

Kate and Ben Choi dressed up for Halloween

Kate Choi, News Editor

On June 10, from my place on the sidelines of the softball field, I watched as the graduates in the Potomac class of 2022 crossed the stage to receive their diplomas. The day was warm and the sky a deep blue, streaked with wispy clouds. As the ceremony progressed, I watched my brother, Ben Choi, along with his classmates, graduate from high school. It seemed unreal to me that twelve eventful years had come to an end.

When the Current’s advisor suggested that I write a reflection for the paper on my thoughts as I watched my older brother graduate, I asked myself, what more could I say about Ben that a lot of people didn’t already know? Beyond the résumé, he’s known to be kind-hearted, humble, and pretty funny.

Ben’s achievements at school seemed to me to have come frustratingly easily. Across his seven junior year courses, Ben took five pages of notes. I’m fairly certain he never looked at any of them; they were completely illegible. Ben has the messiest handwriting I’ve ever seen.

Ben poured himself into other pursuits, though, especially his mind-controlled arm, a substance abuse alert system, control theory equations, and physiological monitoring devices. He even moonlights as an avid baseball card collector.

Growing up with Ben, too, has been its own unique experience. I’m an expert at annoying him (and he definitely knows how to annoy me). As much as he can recall every detail from a lecture three years ago, I seem to always remember better than him where he placed his eyeglasses, his lunch box, and lately, his car keys.

Undeniably, too, Ben has had an outsized influence on my life. My first word was not “ma” or “da”; it was “ba,” short for “Ben.” My acceptance to the Potomac School was one of my happiest days because it was Ben’s school.

Growing up under his long shadow hasn’t been easy. Sure, there have been plenty of doubts: how, I have long thought, can I ever reach the bar he has set? I cannot count the number of times that I have been compared to my brother at school — mostly in subtly unflattering ways. Each time I am defined in opposition to him, I am subliminally burdened by the pressure to become more like Ben.

Then I look at my brother. Simply put, Ben is restless. He’s always on the run: chasing something new, something better, something even more ambitious. His achievements bring him joy — but that joy, as I’ve observed, is ephemeral. In effect, it is the elusive nature of satisfaction that is Ben’s greatest weapon and, paradoxically, his most dreadful curse. It is his inability to rest on his laurels — his perpetual sense of continued hunger in the face of victory — that propels him onto greater and greater triumphs. And at the same time, this very phenomenon can leave him perennially unfulfilled.

In his farewell address as the student body president at the closing assembly on June 9, Ben spoke from the heart. He described how he’d spent years of his life constantly chasing after the next thing — always perceiving that his next accolade, his next achievement, would finally bring him true happiness. And yet, this sense of joy was always fleeting. The truest forms of fulfillment in Ben’s life came not from his accomplishments; rather, they came from the interpersonal relationships he had cultivated, and the potential for his work to serve the lives of others.

I certainly do not have the résumé of my brother, and yet I too can see this trap reflected in my own life: a good grade does not bring lasting joy, nor does a varsity letter make the rest of my problems evaporate. And while it would be foolish to characterize Ben’s message as a rejection of ambition, without purpose, achievement may feel empty.

I am often asked if I am worried about having to reach the bar set by my brother. My challenge is not to check every box or match Ben’s achievements, but to forge my own purpose and find my own fulfillment. I have tremendous respect for Ben, but I am not defined by him.

When I think of Ben, among the memories that I will cherish most are the long afternoons he spent regaling me with stories of knights, cowboys, and aliens when we were little. He will always be the boy that begged for Nerf guns at the toy store, the toddler with the dinosaur obsession, the kid always up for a game of catch. And when midnight rolls around and my math homework gets tough, he’ll always be a call away.