Curating, Crèches, and Cancer
Marguerite Gong Hancock, 2015 Alumni Achievement Award winner, College of Humanities
Marguerite Gong Hancock [BA ’82] has a knack for collecting, curating and sharing stories. But while some people collect stamps and quarters, Hancock collects and tells the stories of important tech entrepreneurs and companies at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley. Additionally, Hancock collects Christmas nativities, catalyzed by her stake’s yearly crèche event, a major public exhibition that brings the community together to celebrate the birth and mission of Jesus Christ. In each of these endeavors Hancock follows a deep-rooted family tradition to use education and the gospel as opportunities to serve.
Hancock studied Humanities and Asian Studies at BYU, and her interdisciplinary work piqued her curiosity in the Industrial Revolution, and specifically, “why was it that countries in Asia, like China, which had [advanced] economies, politics and technologies missed the industrial revolution?” Her questions led her to complete a master’s degree in East Asian Studies at Harvard, then attend the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, after which she and her husband moved to Stanford so he could complete a Ph.D, and she could work at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.
Hancock comes from a family where education matters. She explains, “On [my father’s side of the] family, [my] grandfather left China specifically for his family to come and receive an education. My father was fortunate . . . to go to Stanford. My mother taught elementary school students for more than 30 years. My two brothers and I all graduated from BYU then pursued graduate degrees. Hancock’s education at BYU sparked her lifelong quest to learn and serve. “BYU was a place of inspiration and consecration,” Hancock says. “It [taught me] not only to develop our talents and gifts as much as we can to fulfill our calling, but also to [use] them in real service to [make] a difference for people around us.”
At Stanford, Hancock helped launch and lead the Stanford Program on Regions of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. She cofounded “China 2.0,” a research and education program that organized a major annual China technology and business conference. Hancock and other Stanford and Silicon Valley leaders gathered in Beijing and the Bay Area. Hancock says, “We talked about enabling people to be innovative through design thinking, risk-taking, open collaboration, venture capital investment. . . It really takes a whole network of people to turn [an idea] into a business.”
In 2014 Hancock transitioned from Stanford to the Computer History Museum where she now serves as inaugural executive director of the Exponential Center, the first museum institution dedicated to capturing the legacy and advancing the future of innovation and entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley and around the world. The Center preserves the remarkable stories of legendary tech leaders and iconic companies. All of its exhibits, from Apple’s original business plan to the Google Founders Collection—plus regular live programming events and education initiatives—encourage innovators and entrepreneurs today.
As a member of the church, Hancock is involved in another major collecting endeavor, the Christmas Crèche Exhibit, an annual exhibit of nativity scenes displayed for five days each December. The temporary exhibit has run for over 30 years and is the longest-running community- nativity exhibit in the United States. Hancock served as the first chair of the exhibit when she and her husband returned to the Bay Area from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Members in Hancock’s Palo Alto ward were concerned that members of their community didn’t view Mormons as Christians, and they wanted to rectify this misconception. “Instead of talking about it, or trying to convince [the community], we could just try to show it by celebrating the birth of the Christ and [by opening] the doors of our church as a gift to the community,” Hancock says.
Although the exhibit started small, it quickly grew, and it now fills the Palo Alto church each December. Many volunteers working for 5 days transform the church into a beautiful, immersive exhibit. Selecting just over 350 crèches each year out of the 3,000 that are offered, Hancock and their hard-working volunteer team create nine distinct galleries based on themes such as geography, material, or artistic medium. After the exhibit is up, over 10,000 people, more than half of whom are not members, flock to the small church to see the incredible nativity scenes along with live holiday music, hands-on activities, and community service projects. “It’s thrilling for so many people of all ages and backgrounds to come. But it’s not just about the quantity of people. . . We really hope that each person who comes can feel the birth of the Savior was real,” Hancock explains. “We’re really trying to give praise to Heavenly Father for the gift of His Son for each of us and inspire people to spread light and love to others.”
In 2007, amidst her exciting career and volunteer work, Hancock was unexpectedly diagnosed with breast cancer. “I was totally surprised. That diagnosis began what turned out to be two years of active treatments, multiple surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, drug therapy. . . and deep reflection.” Cancer can affect patients differently, but for Hancock, due to some complications, “there were times that I really felt like I was on the edge of life. . . I literally just concentrated on taking each breath, day by day.”
With her regular life on hold, and possibly slipping away, Hancock’s perspective on life sharpened. She says, “I feel a deep sense of gratitude. . . that life is a gift, and sometimes every breath, every hour is something we need to receive as a gift from God, and to live it with full consecration.”
Despite eighteen months of grueling treatments, Hancock found a ray of hope and happiness in fulfilling her calling as Girls Camp Director and a member of the Stake Young Women’s Presidency. “Some of my really happy moments of chemotherapy, if you can believe it, were meeting together with my assistant camp directors praying and planning girls camp.” The enthusiastic group would bring lunch and do planning during Hancock’s chemotherapy sessions. After finishing her last round of radiation, Hancock, still very weak, headed up to girls camp in the Sierra Mountains. Undeterred by her physical weakness, Hancock still participated in girls camp activities—including rappelling down the side of a waterfall. “One of my good friends was with me, and in a real sense, sort of carrying my weight, enabled me to do that,” Hancock explains. “[I hoped] to show the girls that we can move forward with purpose and joy. With God’s help, we can have courage and faith to face the challenges of whatever life brings us.”
Fortunately, Hancock’s cancer is in remission and the chances of it returning are very small. With her health regained, Hancock again co-chairs the Christmas Crèche Exhibit along with directing the Exponential Center at the Computer History Museum. Reflecting on the past few years, Hancock reiterates, “I feel so grateful for the gift of life, for my healing, for the challenges . . . and especially God’s goodness that has extended and blessed my life to be able to try to make a difference in the world.”