Sam Hyun, MPP'21

Sam Hyun with Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo and other dignitaries
Sam Hyun, right, with Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo, second from left, and other dignitaries

Growing up, Sam Hyun, MPP’21, idolized political figures who fought for social justice in the United States, such as Martin Luther King Jr., President Barack Obama and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. But he always felt there was something missing. 

“I didn’t see anyone that looked like me,” says Hyun, who is the son of Korean immigrants. “I thought, ‘How can I be bold and change that?’”

That’s why he’s decided to devote his life to public service—particularly to amplify the voices of Asian Americans, who are often marginalized in American policies.

After college, Hyun worked for five years as a legislative aide for Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo. Hyun accompanied him and prepared him for meetings and events, from visiting homeless shelters to attending galas with Congressional leaders. He grew to oversee DeLeo’s foreign affairs portfolio, arranging visits from dignitaries like the prime minister of Vietnam and former UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon.

Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and Sam Hyun
Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon with Hyun

“Everyone told me that working for the speaker was like getting a PhD in politics,” Hyun says. “I learned so much about leadership, coalition-building, movements. I was in the room, having conversations with the man who made the decisions. But after five years, I realized I was lacking in terms of hard technical skills, so I was pretty torn on what to do.”

That’s when an opportune conversation with Moon, with whom he’d developed a relationship over years of meetings, put him on the path to Heller. Moon urged him to go back to school, citing how much he’d learned in graduate school. After looking at a number of schools, Hyun chose Heller for its social justice focus.

“I’ve loved my experience here,” Hyun says. “Not everyone is from the government. People come from AmeriCorps, think tanks, and there’s just a vast diaspora of intellect. I’m really inspired by my cohort members.”

While working on his MPP, Hyun remains engaged in Asian American leadership and state politics. He serves as the Executive Director of the Korean American Citizens League of New England, and he was appointed in February by DeLeo to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Asian American Commission, where he’ll serve a three-year term.

It’s an opportunity to continue advocating for Asian American voices in state government, fighting stigma and racism through public campaigns, such as around COVID-19, and elevating young leaders through networking and mentorship.

“Asian Americans are the invisible race, but we’re not a monolith—our community [in Massachusetts] comes from 19 different countries,” Hyun says. “I want to make sure we’re represented, seen and have a seat at the table.” 

Donna Hyun and Sam Hyun
Hyun with his mom, Donna

He credits his mom and sister for putting him on the path to public service. Life wasn’t always easy for his single mom, but she always made sure to give back, and took Hyun to the Boston Rescue Mission every month for 15 years to volunteer. And he never forgot his sister’s advice as he started his career: “You are one of very few Asian American faces, so you will stick out in a world where Asian Americans tend to avoid sticking out. Use that to your advantage.”

Hyun juggles his responsibilities at Heller and beyond by relying on his robust support system, which includes his family, MPP classmates and faculty members, his KACL board members and friends he made in state politics, like Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu. 

“I remind myself that this isn’t about me. When I remove myself and focus on my mission, it makes it easier to not get stressed out,” he says. “I definitely want to be in public service, but I’m not sure what that looks like yet. Running for office is on the table, but at the same time, it doesn’t have to be. What’s the most impactful? What does the community want and need?”

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