By Ryan Lee, VI Form
This past summer, I made a set of business cards in preparation for the International Congress of Mathematicians convention, where I hoped to meet world-renowned mathematicians. My card reads “Seung Jae “Ryan” Lee, Math Enthusiast.” The night before the opening ceremony, I couldn’t sleep. I was too excited about the prospect of sitting in actual lectures given by the scholars whom I had only read about and to witness this year’s Fields Medal Award Ceremony in person. I am not exaggerating when I claim to be a math enthusiast. I call myself a math enthusiast (though my friends find my choice of words rather amusing) because no other title better encapsulates my passion for mathematics. I was not always like this however. I was once a good math student who only found math relatively interesting. I was not completely taken by mathematics until I met Dr. James Tanton in ninth grade.
In the unforgettable classroom plastered with posters that read “Fun Math,” Dr. Tanton reshaped my perspective on mathematics. Unlike my previous teachers who urged me to memorize the equations, Dr. Tanton opened my eyes to see how it is not the math equations themselves that are valuable, but the exploration that leads to the discovery of those equations is what makes the equation so valuable to mathematicians.
Under Dr. Tanton’s guidance, I conducted my first math research on Honeycomb sequence (a sequence our group named for its similarities to the Fibonacci sequence). There, I began to see what Dr. Tanton meant by “exploration of mathematics.” There, I began my very own cave exploring, in that I determined the topic without knowing exactly where the exploration will eventually take me. I learned to ask questions on the chosen topic, much like taking careful steps into a darkened cave. I saw that each proceeding question serves as a guide to the next path and so on, and I couldn’t believe the sense of achievement that I obtained each time I successfully proved or disproved my conjecture. Dr. Tanton was my beacon of light during the research, assisting me to explore the unknown cave without a map or directions, relying solely on my creativity and will to prove my conjecture in a unique way. With his teachings, I saw that it doesn’t matter if my conjecture was proven by a mathematician ages ago with a more brilliant method, for the fact that I’ve excavated my own way is what truly matters.
Although Dr. Tanton left St. Mark’s soon after, what he taught me never did, for much of my time in and outside of school continues to be dedicated to exploring mathematical caves of various sizes and depths: from partaking in six-week math research program to attending the International Congress of Mathematicians convention with my self-printed business card. Dr. Tanton showed me the beauty of mathematics. And thus he changed my life, opening the door to my future full of genuine passion. For that, I consider myself incredibly lucky.
Ryan Lee is a VI Former from Seoul, Korea, and he lives in Sawyer House. He is passionate about math and computer science, and he often writes a post in his blog on math and computer science.