Kwak appreciates Bindle lending a guiding hand. It's tough enough for anyone to march the entire 5.5-mile parade route. Especially for Kwak, who is blind.
"Mi So is an amazing kid. She's incredibly independent, confident and very talented. She has worked her way up through the band and is now a leader in the program," said Diamond Bar High School band and orchestra director Steve Acciani.
It was Acciani who encouraged the 18-year-old senior to apply for a spot in the Bands of America Honor Band after Kwak learned about it via Twitter.
"I really wanted to perform in the New Year's Day parade, so I filled out the paperwork. But I got stuck when the audition recordings had to be submitted through software that wasn't compatible with the programs I use," she said.
With the director's help, Kwak got a waiver to submit her audition via a CD. It wasn't the first time she has had to fight to be included.
The Korean native grew up in Seoul, where she attended the National School for the Blind. She began to play the flute in the fourth grade.
When her family moved to New York for her father's business, Kwak entered the seventh grade at the Rome Free Academy.
wasn't comfortable with my English, so I dove into my music. Band was the only class where I didn't have to use English to excel," she said.However, students at the academy who play wind or percussion instruments are required to join the marching band.
"The band director wasn't sure about putting a blind person in the marching band, so he told me not to worry about it," she said.
"But marching in the band was something I'd wanted to do since middle school, so I thought that was unfair and told him I wanted to participate," the young woman said.
With the help of her friends, Kwak began performing in field shows. At first, they used a bungee cord to guide her.
"When I transferred to Diamond Bar High in my freshman year, I asked Mr. Acciani if I could march with the band and he was cool with it," she said.
The Brahmas decided to assign a student to guide her as she marched in the band. The student walked alongside her, applying light pressure to her left shoulder to guide her along the parade route.
"I couldn't do it without the help of my guides. I trust them completely to guide me safely," Kwak said.
Along the way, the brave teen has garnered the admiration of staff and students alike.
"She's been doing all our marching band performances for all four years and doing a fantastic job. And she learns hours of music by memorizing in just a few days," Acciani noted.
Now, Kwak is learning four new songs for her march down Colorado Boulevard. She began rehearsals with 300 other musicians in the honor band from across the country on Thursday.
Recently, the Diamond Bar High band marched in the Arcadia Christmas Parade.
"I watched our band march in Arcadia and everyone became teary eyed when Mi So marched by," said Principal Catherine Real. "It left everyone along the parade route with an admiration for this fearless and talented young lady."