The city of Phoenix’s 2014 Outstanding Young Woman of the year is a gifted pianist, philanthropist, aspiring neuroscientist and recent graduate of Desert Vista High School.
Joyce Yang, the city-wide winner, has played piano from the age of 5 and enjoyed numerous successes in music, but what set her apart from other award contestants was how she used her musical gift to serve her community.
Yang led the Phantasie String Quartet from seventh grade until her graduation. The musical group participated in multiple competitions, the most recent being the Arizona Musicfest Young Musicians Instrumental Competition, which Phantasie won.
When the group wasn’t competing, it performed for the elderly. Yang and her fellow musicians played in front of senior communities, which often were characterized by Alzheimer’s.
“The community service is definitely something I really enjoy doing. I just like performing in front of people, both the elderly and younger populations,” Yang said. “For me, I like performing in front of the younger, because I want to expand music. I think music is a very important part of learning.”
Her older sisters founded Phantasie when they were in high school. Yang initially just accompanied them and handed out programs.
“Growing up, I always looked up to my two older sisters.”
After her siblings graduated as valedictorians, the little sister took over the group. She recruited her own members and grew the program.
Phantasie completed its final concert last May.
“It was pretty sad, but it was also pretty exciting,” Yang said. “We were able to show almost everything we’ve done over the past years.”
The exposure to Alzheimer’s patients helped inspire Yang to intern with the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in the summer before her senior year. At the time, she knew she wanted to study neurology in college. She found that the subject related well to her previous experiences.
“As a musician, you come across a lot of people who have injuries, who have reoccurring neurological disorders. My piano teacher suffers from an injury that basically incapacitates his left hand, so he was unable to become a concert pianist. During my junior year, he sat me down and talked about all those things. That really got me thinking about the neurological track.”
After graduating as one of the record-setting 12 valedictorians in Desert Vista’s Class of 2014, Yang will study neuroscience at Massachussetts Institue of Technology. She chose the major after careful consideration of her previous experiences.
“Being the youngest of the three daughters, I always wanted to surpass my sisters in the things I did.”
One older sister is a music major, and the other does clinical and translational studies at Mayo Graduate School.
“I think the fact that I tried to pursue both of them at the same time contributed to the things that I’ve done.”
Yang used her valedictorian speech to thank her parents for allowing her and her sisters to pursue music: “On top of all their academic guidance, my parents allowed us to pursue a very committed musical path, in which all three of us are serious violinists and pianists. It’s through my experiences at the musical community that I found my true personal happiness.”
Yang received a $250 prize for being awarded the Outstanding Young Woman for Phoenix’s sixth district. Male and female students from each of the city’s eight districts won prizes for “community service and commitment to excellence,” a city of Phoenix press release said.
The city also recognized Luis Sierra, a graduate of Mountain Pointe, as District Eight’s male winner.
For winning the city’s Overall Outstanding Young Woman, Yang received an additional $1,000.
Dr. Kenneth Baca, Tempe Union High School District superintendent, congratulated Yang and Sierra for their accomplishments: “I’m proud of the way both students represent the Tempe Union High School District and shine not only in their academics but also in their dedication to community service and extra-curricular activities.”
Yang will spend her summer at the Adamant Music School and go to MIT in the fall. After her undergraduate career, she will pursue her MBPhD on a medical track.
• James Anderson is a junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He is interning this semester for the AFN.