I graduated

11/2020

This post is long overdue.

When I was informed I would need to deliver a videotaped graduation speech for my high school's virtual ceremony this May, I was less than thrilled. I've always felt as though graduation speeches are unfailingly generic and abstract; it's often difficult to encapsulate one's experiences into something broadly relevant, because those encapsulations (at least in my experience, and I think especially in the context of titles awarded on the basis of grade rankings) often come from a privileged perspective.

Though I was aware of these, I can't say my speech turned out any less generic or abstract. Regardless, here it is. The article I discussed is Jenny Odell's "how to do nothing", recommended to me by my friend Taylor (who also helped edit this speech).

...

There are so many people who have impacted my life in some way or another, for whom I'm endlessly grateful. It's difficult to name them all here. I want to thank my teachers for teaching me science and literature and history and, more importantly, what it means to be courageous.1 I want to thank the staff, including my counselor, for everything they've done behind the scenes. I want to thank my friends and classmates for standing by my side; you all never fail to inspire me. I want to thank my extended family, including my grandparents--Lao Lao and Lao Ye--I'm sorry I couldn't visit this year, but thank you for supporting me from thousands of miles away. And finally, I want to thank my parents. In many ways, this pandemic has revealed the sheer weight of their sacrifice: to give me a better life and a better future, they left behind homes, families, a world in which their language and culture were celebrated.

A few months ago, one of my close friends sent me an article titled "how to do nothing". In it, author Jenny Odell describes how a new hobby of birdwatching "changed the granularity of [her] perception", because to her, what was previously only "birdsong" became a collection of different sounds made by different birds. In other words, "one thing became [multiple]", and her relatively "low-resolution" worldview grew sharper.

I consider my worldview to be "low-resolution", too; the world is multidimensional in ways I often don't understand or even recognize. And because of this, I easily lose sight of myself--on a number of occasions throughout high school, I pursued goals without really knowing why.

So I won't pretend to be wise enough to give advice, because like many others, I don't have everything figured out; I'm not yet sure who or what I want to be. Moreover, I recognize we all come from different backgrounds and different circumstances, and because of it, we've experienced vastly different joys and sorrows, triumphs and failures.

But I think we all share the potential to pay closer attention. As Odell mentions in her article, modern media values connections built upon primitive signaling rather than true empathy. But by really listening to each other's richly diverse stories, we can begin to comprehend the complexity of human experience; in doing so, we can make better sense of ourselves and the events around us, and recognize our power to change them. This pandemic has made it clearer than ever: nothing happens in a vacuum. Individuals can influence large-scale outcomes, hopefully for the better.

To the LRCH class of 2020: congratulations on your accomplishments and growth. In the future, I hope we'll all find ways to deepen our understandings of ourselves and our world, to bring positive change, to pursue our dreams. Thank you for the last four years, and I wish you all the best.

I also post my writing on Substack, if you'd like to be notified.


  1. During the fight for local control of the LRSD, the current pandemic, and so many other moments.