In a few months, many of you will hear classmates stand up and give a speech that celebrates where you have come, but also, more importantly, where you will go in the future. Your peers will begin reflecting on the times that you have spent together and attempt to encapsulate the entirety of your high school experience in a few choice words. These people will do their best to soothe the nerves of those around them, peering into the future with sagacity far beyond their years. This, I am afraid, will seem like one of those speeches. However, do not fret for I have sat through these talks—and even given a few—and I will do my best to make my story as entertaining as possible.
From this point forward, you will find yourselves involved with a myriad of activities ranging from prom, to commencement, to five hundred graduation parties, to the inevitable “best, last, and greatest goodbye celebration” for you and your friends. I remember madly rushing around, desperate to create and capture memories, sure that I would keep them with me forever. Savor these moments and hold them close, not out of fear for losing something dear to you, but because they demonstrate, in a very subtle way, how much you have grown over the past four years.
Coming to campus for the first time, I admittedly had trepidations about the school for I had never lived in a place other thanHawaii. Would I get along with my roommate? Why did the sky look brown? What were flip-flops? How would I sneak my rice cooker into the dorm without my RA noticing? I distinctly remember the first time that I stepped foot on the USC campus as an “official” student: on that day, I felt out of place for I realized that while I attended the University of Southern California, I had yet to become a Trojan. Making the transition to college life always represents a challenge, I think, although we may not admit it at the time. As freshmen, we arrive on campus and begin the often-intimidating process of integrating ourselves into a community that seems all too large and detached. We venture off into the unknown, attempting to pass off our fears as excitement, sometimes portraying the image that we want to meet others simply because we have a amicable disposition—and not because we desperately seek to make friends. Those first few days it seems so much easier to lie still and be safe, and a giant leap of faith seems easy when everyone you’ve asked is so sure. Yet, sometimes the only way is jumping—I hope you’re not afraid of heights.
Now, all of those memories seem so far behind me for I find myself a senior with a mere month until graduation. When I think back on my time at USC, I find that I have accomplished my goal, although not in a way that I had anticipated. I, like many of my peers, came to the University to learn, and I found that I have. I now know how to write a paper containing more than five paragraphs, the seductive nature of afternoon naps, that I have the best friends in the world, and that frozen yogurt makes everything just a little better. But, most importantly, I know who I am—well, at least I think so. College has enabled me to discover what I will and will not do, challenged my thinking, and made me realize what I will fight for. This knowledge, in turn, has served to foster a sense of pride—a feeling achieved only after coming to terms with oneself. For me, so much of this sentiment stems from my time inSouthern California; the experiences that I have had at USC have become an intrinsic part of my identity. And, talking to other students at the University, I know that others feel the same as I. On campus, the student body has developed a way to express the exuberance that they feel: Fight On. I truly believe that each individual on the USC grounds feels a sense of pride—there really is no other word for it—in belonging to the Trojan Family. Yet, this phrase that we utter, often without a second thought, gently reminds us to temper our pride with a sense of humility. The words “Fight On” issue a silent challenge to those who say them, inviting us to always strive to do, and be, better. Looking back, I realize that I have finally become a Trojan.
I sat for a long time, trying to think about how to close my talk. I tried to think back a few years to what I wanted to hear as a senior, to what I wish I had heard before embarking on what would surely be one of the most exciting and precious journeys of my life. As the time to give my speech drew near, I found myself lacking inspiration and I began to panic. Then, all of a sudden, I remembered a book that I had read, and one that you surely will become familiar with in the coming months. Throughout my life, I have found myself continually drawn to this poet’s ability to convey incredibly profound and complex ideas in words so simple that even a child could understand them. Therefore, in the words of Theodore Geisel, I leave you with this message: No matter what college you attend, you have all proven that you have brains in your head and that you have feet in your shoes, that you can steer yourself in any direction you choose. From now on, you are on your own—you know what you know—and you are the one who will decide where to go. So be your name Chang, or Nakamura, or Kaneaiakala-Ventura, you’re off to great places! Today is your day. Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way. And, of course, Fight On.