I was asked to give the commencement speech at Vermont College of Fine Arts this October. What an honor and privilege it was. I am happy to share what I said to my lovely graduating class:
Claiming your own culture
It was about 1981. I was sixteen years old. Living in Seoul, South Korea. I was attending an all girls high school, shy and terrified of boys, when I got my first letter from a neighborhood boy. And my father almost had a heart attack.
It did not matter that it was actually a card. It did not matter that it was actually a Christmas card.
To my father, this was a symbol of the precarious world of adulthood: a world of love, lust and the ruin of women. I exaggerate. But not really. So when I was sixteen years old, my father had the "boy, girl" talk with me. It was not the typical boy girl talk. My father was not your typical father. It went something like this:
Yoon Soo, you have lived in America.
You have lived Korea.
You know that they are different cultures, but you need to respect them for who they are and what they are and neither is right or wrong but different.
Yoon Soo, you have read the history books of Korea and of America.
You know that in the same land, there were different cultures, and that you need to respect them for who they are and what they are and neither is right or wrong but different.
Yoon Soo, you have your own culture.
This culture may, or may not coincide with the current culture that you inhabit.
For example, this current culture may have young girls like you going on dates with boys right now.
But just as you respect every other culture not on the basis of right or wrong, but because it defines who you are, you need to honor and respect YOUR OWN CULTURE. Your own culture might be telling you that you are not ready to date yet. That you might want to take your time. That you might want to wait a very very long time. Perhaps until you are thirty years old.
My father wanted to give me the option to not be interested in boys just yet. But what my father did not realize that day was that he gave me my freedom. I was emancipated from my legacy. I was symbolically emancipated from my gender, my race, my ethnicity, and my history.
Being the great exaggerator that I am, I took a kernel of corn and made it into popcorn. Somehow with this kernel of corn, I made it into: I can pick and choose cultural options based on my value system, preference and genetic disposition. I started my journey to allowing myself to just be.
Today in each and every one of our graduting students, I see how you honor yourself. I see how you create and nurture your OWN CULTURE. Of being and living. As a human and as a designer.
I see how you choose to be yourself, in spite of the fact that it might not be popular. Or convenient. Or main stream. Or understood.
I see you make your way. Through the waves. Through the negativity. Through the doubt.
At out first convocation, Matt Monk spoke of trust and he’s spoke of rays of light. The quote from Sister Corita Kent, “Find a place to trust and try trusting it for a while” hobbled me. But Matt also talked about rays of light. Emanating. From spokes.
I had no idea what he was talking about.
I am a pessimist. For most of my life I activiely disbelieved in happiness. I thought happiness was for people who were dillusional because they had no grasp on reality.
But during my residencies I came to a realization: that there are people in the world that walk with light in their heart. and these people were resilient to all the terrible things that are happening in the world right now.
And when I look around today, I realize that we are all people with rays of hope called resiliency, called love, in our hearts.
VCFA seems to collects people who have this light. Or if you were like me, a pessimist, resisting optimism, it seems to cautiously bring out the ray of hope, the love, or at least the resiliency for hope in our hearts
Today I see: Aaron, Darlene, Donald, Carla, Rachel, Victoria, Segun, Diane, Alex, Bill, Pam, and Kathy.
They walk with resilient love and resilient hope in their hearts. They walk with honor and dignity for the culture they have chosen to create for themselves in the arch of humanity. They articulate and share with us how this is worthy and of value. They may have to defend this worthiness and value as they walk into the world, but I have all the belief in my heart that they will do this with light in their hearts.
Along with Sister Corita Kent, our other fairy god mother, Brené Brown tells the story of courage. She tells the story of courage coming from the Latin word; cur? Meaning heart. She tells us that courage is to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.
What an examplarery group to show us what it is to live with courage.