Graduation 2019 — Congratulations to all the new graduates!

Editor’s Note: Please take a moment to write this opinion piece co-authored by several friends and me on Supporting Fair Opportunity, Decline to Sign Ref. 88 in WA. Thank you to the South Seattle Emerald for sharing the op-ed.

Earlier this week I had the rare honor of serving as the commencement speaker at the University of Washington’s College of Education 140th Graduation ceremony. It was a humbling experience to speak about working for educational justice.

I’m sharing the speech for a few reasons – several people have asked to read it so this is for them, and since I spent time writing this one I will save some brain energy for next week’s post. This is a slightly edited version with an extra passage I cut due to time but now added back in.


UW College of Education Commencement — Look at all of those wonderful graduates working for educational justice.

Thank you, Dean Mia Tuan, faculty, staff, graduates, families and friends for allowing me to join you today. It is an honor to be with you as you celebrate this milestone.

To prepare for today I did a little research. I asked my network what they remembered from their commencement speakers. Overall, people don’t remember what their graduation speakers said. This doesn’t bode well for me today.

My six-year-old said she remembered wearing a yellow square hat and singing Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop this Feeling” at her preschool graduation. Since you most likely won’t remember my words, I hope you remember what you’re FEELING.

I hope you feel proud of your accomplishments. What you did took effort. Your professors and classmates stretched your thinking around race, education, and educational justice. Feel proud of this new bolder thinking. I hope you realize how vast the world is and how little we actually know. My friend, Jondou Chen, calls this “knowing what we don’t know, we don’t know.” I find this incredibly humbling, and hopefully, this makes me a better person.

And I hope you are a little scared. Being a little scared is a good thing when it comes to social change. It reminds us we are spiritual beings in a human experience. It reminds us to find connections and to support each other, especially with people from different backgrounds. At the heart of racial justice work are relationships and connecting with people. Let me say this again, at the heart of racial justice work are relationships.

Relationships drive our work and we need to extend ourselves and our relationships to see people who are different than us.

There is a Masai greeting, where people ask, “And how are the children?” The hoped for reply is “All the children are well.” Not some, not just their friends or relatives, but all of the children. Imagine what our schools could look and feel like if we took care of all of our children, especially our Black and Brown children, immigrants and refugees, our LGBTQ students, disabled, and those who feel othered and outside the educational system. We can do this, and we must do this if we are to work for racial justice.

To the parents, family members, and friends in the audience – today is about you too. I hope you feel proud and maybe a little bit of relief. You got your graduate here and they are about to embark on new adventures. Thank you.

About a week ago I emailed my mom to tell her I would be giving this speech and she gave me a high Asian compliment, “Wow, that is a lot of people. They’re going to listen to you?” I didn’t tell her that my research said no one will remember what I’m saying today.

I grew up in Hawaii as part of the Asian majority. I had teachers who looked like me, I grew up with the first Asian governor in the nation, I could go to 7-11 for my Spam musubi fix. I didn’t have to explain my Asian-ness—I got to be me. This gave me a solid foundation to grow from. I grew up knowing who I am in a community context and this is what I hope we can create for students of color today.

To the family and friends thank you for your sacrifices, your support, and for some of you literally feeding your graduates.

Your work isn’t done. They will need you in the coming months and coming years. Working for educational justice isn’t a path one takes alone. They will need Squad Care. Squad Care comes from African American writer Melissa Harris Perry. She talks about squad care as: “a way of understanding our needs as humans that acknowledges how we lean on one another, that we are not alone in the world, but rather enmeshed in webs of mutual and symbiotic relationships,” this is especially important as the graduates move into their new lives as educators.

They will be changing the world and challenging the status quo. Your beloved will need you as part of their Squad Care. They will need you to listen to them when they come home frustrated and unsure of their next steps.

They will need you to remind them to breathe and the problems we face in our educational system today require a sense of urgency, AND it took hundreds of years to create these problems. The problems won’t be undone overnight, but their contributions to undoing racism will have an impact.

They may need you to continue feeding their stomachs and their souls – bring them a bowl of Pho, make them laugh by reminding them how funny they look in their graduation robe and frumpy hats, or simply ask “hey how’s it going?” Be part of their Squad Care.

My friend and Native American elder, Judge Julian Pinkham, from the Yakama Nation, told me that to work for educational justice we need to be willing to reach back to ask for help and to let the elders guide us. A student who learns will seek more learning and connections. We can do this work together, and we must for ALL of our children, especially those farthest from justice.

Graduates, before you spread across the city, the nation, and the globe take a moment to thank each other for being on this journey with you. Before you leave today – not now, take out those phones and grab a selfie with the friends you made. Make plans to stay connected even if only annually, be part of each-others Squad Care. You’ll need each other on the journey ahead.

When you see each other ask “And how are the children?” and be hopeful when you hear “All the children are well.” Feel proud, feel purposeful, and most importantly FEEL. Thank you.

A few special thank yous and acknowledgments, because writing is a community activity and I borrowed ideas from many people who deserve credit:


The only time I’ll be on jumbotron wearing a professorial hat. Thank you, Aditi for the pic of my overly lifesized head.

Thank you to Mia Tuan, Dean of the UW College of Education – I can’t say no to you because you model what it means to work for change from within and to live with spirit and radiance. Thank you to the UW College of Education team for a seamless event and professionalism – you made this so enjoyable. Thank you to my network for sharing stories about their memories of graduations – those stories shaped what I shared, including the Equity Matters team for introducing Squad Care and practicing it, Jondou Chen, Ph.D., for sharing what he knows I don’t know, Paola Maranan for originally sharing the Masai greeting and taking care of “All of the Children,” Judge Julian Pinkham and Kristin Trout for their wisdom and answering text messages. Thanks to my partner and kids who missed me so much they text me during the middle of graduation asking if I caught any Pokemon for them (no I didn’t). And Oba and Jiji – they laughed at the jokes and clapped at the appropriate times.

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