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Diana Dao
May 2012

So, the moment when I found out I was going to be giving this speech was one of simultaneous honor and horror. Reminiscent of that feeling you get when Iris hugs you for the first time. Or maybe even every subsequent time.

There’s something in particular that I want to talk about today. It’s something I’ve been kind of obsessed with ever since puberty: Growth.

You know, there was this one summer in middle school, where I really, really wanted to get taller. So, I did all these crazy things. I drank milk every day. I hung from monkey bars. I tied weights to my legs. I raised the foot of my bed so when I slept, it’d undo the effects of gravity crushing me. Obviously, those things did not work. I eventually got to a point where I just accepted it. The fact that I was going to forever see things from a different perspective, literally. But you know, I guess I still always kind of had a complex about it. And it wasn’t really until very recently that I realized I’ve come to have a new working definition now of the word.

In the beginning, when I first came to college, it was really tough. I wasn’t that close to my sponsor group. Stacy, she was the cool Asian. I was the nerdy one. She was like Mulan and I was like Mushu. My friend Samuel and I, maybe you’ve heard of him; I think he sometimes goes by Spang. People used to call us the Wonder Twins. If you’re too young, too old, or too uncultured to know, they’re these two superhero twins. One can transform into animals and the other transforms into different states of water. I totally felt like the lamer twin. You know, like he’d be a saber-tooth tiger and I’d be a puddle of water. But I was lucky enough to find a community on campus. Not their community on campus. Ours. Here. And you know what? I realized that I may be a puddle of water, but you would be *dead* without water. That’s how freaking awesome I am.

I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons during my time here. Lessons that have contributed to my personal growth. Chronicled my journey from lame to awesome. I’m going to list a few for you. Pass on my wisdom.

1. Trying to be cool and having someone call me a “motherfucker” the first time we met. So humbling. Don’t front; just be real.
2. During the extended vigil, I set up this awesome mansion-tent for myself. It was the biggest tent filled with all the best blankets. It even had mood lighting to feel especially fancy. I was living it up. But when I had to sleep in a runt tent on the edge of the camp site with nothing but the love in my heart to keep me warm, I learned the importance of equal resource distribution. Sharing is caring.
3. Using the Spang-standard. You’re not late until he shows up before you. But it’s better to just be on time.
4. Sefa and Karin are not that busy. Sometimes, they’re just avoiding people. Everyone needs a break sometime.
5. Kavi, Karin’s baby son, is cute but he has a fickle heart. Be careful who you fall in love with.

The thing is, in gaining these life experiences, I have never been alone. At least one of you here today was beside me every time. Sure, we’ve been through our respective share of Jersey Shore-quality drama, but we’ve also all had our own tender moments in Shahriyar’s suite together. I think it’s important for me to remember that I haven’t been through anything alone. And that I was actually never alone, even when I first arrived here.

I don’t think anyone really knows exactly what they’re doing. I mean, think of our upperclassmen. Christine, Winnie, Dayne. Were any of them particularly excellent role model material? They were stumbling every bit as much as we are now. I mean, some of us may have been closer to our upperclassmen than others. But who here is going to deny their influence in shaping our experience? Sure, we were all confused the first time we saw Charlotte walking and squawking like a bird. But I learned from her that you don’t need to be a bird to fly like one. Yeah, it was kind of disillusioning to realize Koichi’s coolness ended at his hair tips. But I learned from him that your reach doesn’t end anywhere. Sometimes, when you’re taking such little steps every day, it’s hard to recognize the progress you’ve made. Until you look back and see how far you’ve come. Even if it’s hard to believe it right now, I think that, just like those before us, we are, for better or for worse, influencing the underclassmen. Directly. Indirectly. That’s how the universe works.

When you plant a seed, you need to be attentive to it. Shelter it. Tiny sprouts are so fragile. I think that’s how I’ve been growing up to this point. Little by little. Well taken care of. But when after the plant’s grown a few inches, you know, as big as Jereen, then it needs to be slapped around. How else is it going to brave harsh weather and grow into a tree? When we leave here after graduation day, when we’re scattered to the four corners of the earth like Voldemort’s seven horcruxes, we’re gonna get slapped around. As long as it’s not my face, my money-maker, I’m kinda looking forward to it. In the same way you look forward to that big rollercoaster drop. I don’t ride rollercoasters because there’s a minimum height requirement, but I imagine it’s a similar feeling. I guess what my idol from the Lion King, god bless his soul, put it best when he said, “Be prepared.” But also, be excited. Grow into a tree. Because without trees, you don’t get any lemons in life. And without lemons, you can’t get lemonade. Isn’t that how the saying goes?

I know that I should be hard-pressed to find the same kind of community as I’ve found here. But when I remember that, intentionally or not, I helped make it what it is, I’m a little more optimistic about the future. That maybe I can eventually grow to be as big as an Ent. Giant. The kind of person someone can look up to. Not really because they’d have to be a baby. But in the same way that I’ve looked up to everyone that’s helped me get here. I hope it’s the same for you.

And thanks. Really.

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