There are but us mere mortals and then there’s Maddy Tung.
The Santa Monica native, Samohi grad and senior at the United States Air Force Academy will attend Oxford in the fall of 2019. At Oxford, she’ll study for her Master’s degree in Computer Science and Global Governance and Diplomacy.
Getting to Oxford is worldwide, rarified distinction and on top of it, she’ll have her way there paid for via several scholarships, including the prestigious Rhodes scholarship.
Around 2,500 students in the country completed the rigorous application process to become Rhodes scholars with 880 nominated, 240 finalists whittled from that 880 and 32 winners. Of the 32, three were from US Service Academies and two from the Air Force Academy. One of those, of course, being Maddy.
“It doesn’t feel real sometimes,” Maddy said about her becoming a Rhodes scholar and her looming Oxford education. “It’s kinda crazy. It’s a humbling experience being selected.”
That’s enough accomplishments for a lifetime, but Maddy’s life isn’t anything like the normal layperson.
She also has an endless scroll of achievements which led her to where she is and is heading now: Wrestling National Champion, Valedictorian candidate and 6-time All-American in wrestling for Samohi, Mary Sutton Bundy Award winner for Best Female Scholar Athlete, Rotary Club award winner, a Black Belt in Hapkido and in her free time, she managed to earn her private pilots license in her senior year of high school.
But how did this all start? How does one become a renaissance woman?
Maddy defers to humility, saying it was the village of Santa Monica that molded her.
Maddy’s mom says it all started somewhere around 2nd grade. Maddy, the eldest of three girls, became a bit of a tomboy from the way her mother tells it, growing her confidence and life skills while hanging with the boys at school.
“She was always empathetic and kind, but being with the boys taught her to stand up for herself. She was never intimidated by them and they respected her.”
These friendships led to a yearning for “an intellectual stimulation and a physical drive” as Tung grew into adolescence, which led her to Hapkido karate martial arts and the foundation for Maddy’s life.
Leesl Herman, her instructor at the time, said she was a natural-born leader, instantaneously pulling people together as soon as her first day. There, her compassion, bravery, loyalty and tenacity were nurtured.
“It’s about the character development,” Maddy says, rattling off a list of values from Hapkido that she still remembers from childhood. “The practices taught there helped develop values in me that I still hold dear to me.”
Hapkido led to her next true love, wrestling, where she became a 6-time national champion.
An academic star at Samohi, she would take weeks off of class to wrestle around the City and state, often teaching herself the curriculum so that she could maintain her GPA while furthering her wrestling career.
After graduation, she sought out more intellectual stimulation, looking at Ivy League schools that could challenge her mind. Unfortunately, the Ivy Leagues couldn’t challenge her body– none of the Ivy Leagues she was interested in had women’s wrestling.
Eventually, she found the Air Force Academy.
“You study academics and you get to focus on leadership, character development and found that interesting,” she said. “I liked that stuff like jiu-jitsu was mandatory. I liked the concept of improving yourself and I wanted to make a difference. The military made sense.”
Her academics soon took over (a double major in Mathematics, Humanities and a minor in Chinese, mind you) and her wrestling became less frequent, but her curiosity in the military and its application increased.
She says she took a computer science class that “blew my mind blown daily”, specifically learning about artificial intelligence and hopes to wield that in an ethical way.
“Is there a place for AI in the military? What can the world be? How can AI help people? How can tech be used in a positive manner and also always support America’s value system? That’s what I’m interested in.”
While Maddy continues to reach new heights, her family and community say it isn’t much of a surprise to them, knowing she’ll do good for others with her varied skill set.
“I can’t wait to see what kinda things she does for the world,” Amanda Tung says. “Her heart and head are in the right place. I think she’ll be able to accomplish incredible things and that’s what’s exciting to me. I love her.”