Geoffrey Cheng

Year of Graduation: 
Geoffrey Cheng poses for a photo

"Non sibi is more than a catchy motto; it’s a mindset that is applicable to any aspect of life."

As a new upper, I sought community when I arrived at Exeter. Maybe it was because I am Asian and grew up in a home prioritizing family. Maybe it was because I am Christian and had gone to weekly meetings since childhood. Either way, I wanted community. And I found it — around the Harkness table, in student groups like Christian Fellowship and Model UN, and in the ultimate Frisbee team.

The constant influence throughout my Exeter communities was non sibi. Healthy Harkness requires listening to others before sharing your thoughts. Flourishing student groups such as ESSO, CF and Model UN encourage students to engage with causes larger than themselves. Even ultimate (and any other team sport) requires selflessness to win.

After I left Exeter, I realized non sibi is more than a catchy motto; it’s a mindset that is applicable to any aspect of life. When I attended university in St. Louis, my Christian student group made “blessing bags” — brown paper bags filled with bottled water, protein bars and fruit cups — to engage with the local homeless community. Everyone with a car had four or five blessing bags to give to homeless people they met while stopped at red lights, a small yet significant gesture to remind those less fortunate that they’re seen and valued. That’s non sibi. I’ve seen the power of non sibi in my career as well. When I moved to Los Angeles, several alumni got coffee with me, volunteering their valuable time while knowing I couldn’t offer anything in return. One alumnus in particular stood out to me. During our lunch, he shared how he champions hiring diversity candidates. A few months later, he was recognized for leading an industrywide initiative to increase diversity in the entertainment industry. That’s non sibi.

Non sibi has also changed my mental health for the better. When I began considering the needs of others before mine, I moved away from competition and toward collaboration. Since doing so, I am no longer preoccupied with measuring my successes against others’. Instead, I can genuinely celebrate other people’s accomplishments. When my classmate Jason Kang ’12 was recognized in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 a few years ago, I quickly shot him a message congratulating him for his work. That’s non sibi.

As alumni, it can be difficult to build authentic community, but it’s not impossible. When I moved to L.A., I wanted to help grow the alumni community and quickly volunteered to coordinate events. Although they were small gatherings — a happy hour in Santa Monica, a Dodgers game and a Harkness discussion — those who came always left saying how grateful they were to connect with other Exonians. Inspired, I continued to work with Graham LippSmith ’95, president of the alumni association in L.A. for the past 15 years, to build the Exeter community there. I’m now honored to follow Graham as the association’s regional president. 

There’s so much more to Exeter than the time we spent in New Hampshire, and I’m excited to bring a little piece of it to Southern California.

— Geoffrey Cheng '12

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the spring 2019 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.