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Asian American Studies Grad Notes Struggles, Opportunities in Light of Pandemic

College of Humanities and Social Sciences Student Commencement Speech
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Kim Pham, B.A. ethnic studies-Asian American studies

Good morning to our Titan community and an extra good morning to the graduates sitting in front of me: Congratulations, the stress-induced hair loss wasn’t for nothing. My name is Kim Pham and I graduated last semester in the fall of 2021.

I want to share with you how my education at CSUF has impacted my journey as a post grad during the last 5 months. Because this is a celebratory day, we won’t talk about the job rejections, declining mental health or the expectations of adulthood. Instead, I hope what you remember from these 3 minutes of profound wisdom, it’s that we can no longer use ignorance as an excuse for not doing better. Because if we continue to be unaware, we will perpetuate our nation’s issues instead of solving them.

Short story long, I wrapped up my college career clicking the leave meeting button on Zoom, closing my laptop and going back to sleep. My expectations for a glorious sprint across the finish line turned out to be a very slow and exhausting crawl in a race I once thought I couldn’t finish. Like many students, procrastination is one of my greatest strengths. What’s important isn’t that you started the assignment an hour before it’s due, but that you still turned it in on time. And, as the first class to return to an in-person ceremony since 2019: Congratulations, we did it just in time.

While none of our experiences is identical, we all share the same perseverance it took to walk across this stage today. I don’t know where any of you started, but I know none of you got here without struggling. So let me be the first to acknowledge that the accomplishments being celebrated today are that much more impressive in light of the ongoing pandemic, the social justice issues and each of our own unique struggles beyond that. To all of our knowledge, the college experience was not the only aspect of life that the pandemic interrupted. While privileged folks dealt with inconveniences, the problems faced by underserved communities became exacerbated, and highlighted how our governments fail to protect the most vulnerable populations during the most critical times.

As we embark on our next chapter in life, we must start thinking about how we are going to use the privilege of receiving this education to leave the world better than we found it. We can’t pretend to be unquestioning students, loyal employees, or in my case, the model minority, anymore. While none of our futures are pointed in the same direction, we did not overcome all the obstacles we did for everything to remain the same. Having this education made me realize I couldn’t keep living my life the way I was before, which was ignorant.

There was a time when women couldn’t vote and that was normal. There was a time when people of Asian descent were considered unfit for US citizenship and that was normal. There was a time when the opportunity to learn about my biased history books wasn’t even an option and that was normal. Yet here I am, as a female activist, a US citizen of Vietnamese descent, and the Asian American studies department’s outstanding graduate. Those times teach us that just because something is normal, doesn’t mean it is right or set in stone. The first step to addressing these challenges is to surrender our ignorance; If we can collectively acknowledge the inhumanity of each other’s suffering, especially the injustice marginalized groups face, then I have hope that we can reform the systems that caused it.

So yes, we did it, but we are not done. Today we come together to celebrate, but tomorrow we’ll come together to create change. But what do I know? I’m still searching for a job that will pay me more to use my degree than In-N-Out pays me to flip burgers. Speaking of which, I’d like to extend a “thank you” to my manager, Victoria Hoang, and another special thank you to my professor, Jennifer Yee, for being the Asian female role models I’ve always wanted growing up.

I hope you all remember that your lives are meant to be enjoyed, not endured. For those who didn’t want us to succeed, for those who will succeed us, and most importantly, for ourselves, let’s show the world exactly what better looks like. Thank you.