Commencement Address by Ms. Julia Ong (CAS, ’08), May 18, 2008

Commencement Address delivered by Ms. Julia Ong (CAS, ’08)
School of Management Auditorium, Boston University, May 18, 2008

Distinguished faculty and staff, family, friends, and fellow classmates of the graduating class of 2008, welcome. I would like to thank you all for giving me the privilege to stand here before you today and be apart of this ceremonious event. Most importantly, I would like to thank my parents, who are attending their fourth and final college commencement ceremony. Without their unending support and belief in me I would not be standing here before you all. So thank you Mom and Dad.

Four years ago, I was standing before a similar audience: my high school graduating class of 2004. I stood before them and spoke about passions and dreams and spoke about following those dreams passionately. About making a difference. About changing the world. And as I entered Boston University, as an eager freshman with that mindset, I was ready to make a mark within this large community. I saw college as a new arena to do what I hadn’t done in high school. I wanted to do it big the second time around. To sign up for every club, for every charitable organization, for student government, for the dean’s host. I wanted to be active in any and every way possible. But as we all learned in high school, and certainly again in college, you can’t do it all.

So as I sat down to write this speech, for this graduating class of collegiate scholars, I felt less of a need to speak so grandly. After four years here at Boston University, studying in the College of Arts and Sciences, exploring different subjects and finding one field that enticed me, I’ve realized you can’t attain the big things without understanding the smaller ones first. Without cherishing them first.

Upon commencement, there are many people eager to give us advice and remind us that we are the future generation. We have a duty, a responsibility to use our education as a tool for change and progress. I firmly believe that. I still believe we can make a difference and we can change the world and that the world needs us. However, it’s not the same belief I once spouted four years ago. It isn’t about touching the entire world in a dramatic fashion. Instead, it’s about making a difference within our communities, within our relationships, within ourselves. It’s about remembering always where we’ve come from to understand how far we’ve come. It’s about acknowledging and giving credit to those who’ve helped us come as far as we have

I think about the poem I read by the American slam poet, Taylor Mali, entitled “What a Teacher Makes.” In the poem, the people are at a dinner party and one pompous guy says, “What’s a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?” And then asks the teacher at the dinner table, “I mean, you’re a teacher, Taylor,” he says. “Be honest. What do you make?” The teacher responds with these words:

“I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could. I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional medal of honor and an A- feel like a slap in the face. How dare you waste my time with anything less than your very best.

I make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall in absolute silence. No, you may not work in groups. No, you may not ask a question. Why won’t I let you get a drink of water? Because you’re not thirsty, you’re bored, that’s why.

I make parents tremble in fear when I call home; I make parents see their children for who they are and what they can be.

You want to know what I make?
I make kids wonder,
I make them question.
I make them criticize.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them write.
I make them read, read, read.
I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful over and over and over again until they will never misspell either one of those words again.
I make them show all their work in math.
And hide it on their final drafts in English.
Let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true:
I make a goddamn difference! What about you?”

I want us to remember to never become the pompous person at the dinner table. To remember our professors, our advisors, our mentors, to remember those who taught us something valuable, whether big or small, in life. And then I want us to strive to be one of them. Not necessarily a teacher in academia. But a teacher in life, a teacher for someone.

We’ve all been blessed with the opportunity to graduate from a distinguished university and learn from the best. But what we have been blessed with will mean little if we don’t use our knowledge valuably. As we step out of college, and continue on with our lives, searching for jobs, searching for what to do with our liberal arts degrees, searching for some sort of purpose, I want us to remember that it’s not simply about the big dream. That isn’t to say, don’t have a dream. Do. Dream. Dream big. But remember that it’s always about the process in between. It’s about the minor accomplishments that total our passions.

It’s about the time when I performed my own choreography for a live audience of 250 people. It’s about the time when my freshmen mentee called me up when she broke her leg, knowing that I would be able to help her. It’s about the time when I stood before seventeen of my classmates and delivered a speech that moved me, and some of them to tears. It’s about the time when I stopped by office hours to ask for help and ended up discovering more about the remarkable man across from me than the significance behind the Allegory of the Cave in Plato’s Republic.

It’s about the discovery that occurs along the journey that matters most. And with that, I ask of you all to be open to this discovery and to go after those small, but substantial, accomplishments with as much gusto as you do for the big dream.

Congratulations and best of luck Class of 2008!