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‘I had to become the best of myself.’ Riverside senior Jiachen Yan said US education helped him grow
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Riverside Military Academy's Jiachen Yan - photo by Scott Rogers

Riverside Military Academy Cadet Jiachen Yan, now 18, jumped at an opportunity in his eighth grade year that, for many that age, would have seemed a daunting reality.

The graduating cadet major and Hong Kong native said when his parents asked him if he would be interested in leaving his home on the opposite side of the globe to come to the U.S. and attend military school, the intrigue was simply too much to ignore. He added that, around that time, he’d seen videos and received other information about U.S. military schools that had piqued his interest.

“When I was little, I always felt like I wanted to know more about the world instead of just staying in the local community,” Yan told The Times. “I felt bored, and my parents were trying to motivate me by providing me many opportunities and options. … And that sounded very interesting. I was excited.”

Yan began his military school career in Missouri in eighth grade, but he spent all four years of high school at Riverside. He described himself as a lazy high school student on arrival, but he’s been anything but since.

Yan is vice president of his senior class and vice president of the student senate, as well as a member of the school’s armed drill team. He also helps to coach the junior varsity drill team. As part of the responsibilities that come with his major rank, he also provides daily reports to staff and faculty at the school.

Class of 2021

Read stories of outstanding seniors across Hall County in our Class of 2021 special section. Pick up a copy of the print publication, which lists names of all the graduating seniors, inside the May 8-9 weekend edition of The Times.

And he shared with pride that he is the founder of the school’s esports club, an accomplishment he said he achieved with full support of his parents. He said he wants his experience with the 15-member esports team, which plays other schools in Georgia in online games like League of Legends and Valorant, to show that gamers aren’t inherently irresponsible or unmotivated.

“There are a lot of people who are just like me, who are interested in competitive gaming and also (striving) hard for their academics and … discipline level,” he said.

On top of all his activities, Yan has excelled in his classes, finishing his school career with a 4.15 GPA.

Yan said he loves to be deeply involved, and since he and the other cadets begin their days at 6:30 a.m. at Riverside, he has time to fit everything in.

Yan credits the school, its structure and its instructors with helping him develop good habits, strong work ethic, impeccable time management and a dedication to his schedule that has allowed him to make use of every second of his day. 

He said his five years in the country have also given him a much stronger hold on the English language.

The Hong Kong native said as he grew through his schooling, he continued to strive to do the best he could because he wanted to develop and better himself so that he could better others. 

“I wanted to provide happiness to other people, I wanted to see others’ success, but I had to become the best of myself in order to let that happen,” he said, adding that he took every school assignment, project or responsibility as a personal challenge to be his best. “I have a mindset of, ‘This will keep me in shape and ready for the college life and my future career.’ … I can see myself differently from three years ago or four years ago.”

Yan said the COVID-19 pandemic had minimal impact on him personally, though he said he wished during every Zoom class that he was face-to-face with his instructors instead. He also said he was grateful for the local guardian that housed him during the pandemic. 

For those underclassmen who he’ll be leaving behind, Yan said his advice is this: 

Academics, character and leadership are undoubtedly important in order to achieve “higher virtues and happiness” and to satisfy self and others.

After graduation, Yan is off to California, where he’ll either attend school at University of California Irvine or University of California, Los Angeles. He said he plans to major in biology and will focus on biomedical engineering so that he can eventually take over the western U.S. expansion of his father’s medical business, recognized as the top in its industry in Asia. The biomedical business, known in the U.S. as Asian Integrated Cell Laboratory, conducts immune and stem cell therapies and creates medical products that are meant to help seniors, improve quality of life and lengthen life span.

He said the U.S. hub is located in Irvine, California, and he plans to continue to strive to one day own that branch and direct the business’ North American expansion.

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Riverside Military Academy's Jiachen Yan - photo by Scott Rogers
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