Jack Jue’s Graduation Speech to the Class of 2014

Elected by Bay faculty and staff to represent his class, Jack Jue gave an incredible speech for the Class of 2014’s graduation. Enjoy reading his thoughtful and compelling words below.

2014_bay_grad-9317Students, faculty, friends and family, and of course the incredible class of 2014: it goes without saying that today is a proud day for all of us. Yet I will admit, it does feel a bit strange to be standing up here on this stage, in front of all of you, at the end of one of life’s chapters and at the beginning of another. I’m not going to try to speak about wisdom to an audience that is infinitely wiser than I — I have no answers for you. Instead, I have questions. That is the mark of a Bay School education — you learn how to ask a lot of questions.

But before I get into those questions, I would like to take a moment to talk about the graduating class up on this stage, a group I have come to love and respect. On the first day of senior year — I don’t know if you remember — we were just coming back from summer break and strange words like “senior” and “college” and “responsibilities” were beginning to be used by our teachers and our parents. On that day we strode proudly up the aisle and up the senior steps that overlook the Great Room, the place where the seniors traditionally sit during Morning Meeting. This was the moment I had been waiting for since I got to Bay. As an underclassmen, I would often look up at the seniors sitting on those steps in admiration — underclassmen, I know you do. But now, it was our turn. I sat down on the senior steps and my first thought was: wow, this is not as comfortable as I thought it would be. It is going to be a long year.

College applications, honors courses, more college applications, senior projects, theater productions, and sports seasons. College rejection letters, the existential crises that followed, and the acceptances. Through it all we struggled and persevered together, and we shared wonderful memories that were all our own. And some, from our spot on the stairs, we shared with the school. Alice Nemoto, thank you for your dry sassiness in Morning Meeting that kept us roaring with laughter; Jake Vollen, how did you always manage to find something or someone to lean your back on every single day? How did you do it? And Justice Skolnik, your muscle-flexing announcements and that beautiful selfie were priceless. Those senior steps — our senior steps — became a place where every day I welcomed the friendship, spontaneity, and character that define the class of 2014. And as the year progressed our steps didn’t feel as hard and uncomfortable as they once did. And yesterday, when we sat on those steps for the last time, I couldn’t help but feel melancholy. Thanks to your warmth, hope, and vitality, I feel at home on those steps and in my school.

‘At home’ is not typically a phrase one associates with high school, and that certainly wasn’t the case for me prior to Bay. I know I told you I have questions, and I promise I’ll get to them soon. But I have to tell you this story first. I lived in the beautiful state of Minnesota for seven years before moving to San Francisco and beginning life here. Those seven years were some of the happiest years of my life. But they were also years in which I didn’t feel a strong sense of community within my school and often felt isolated. At the high school in Minnesota where I spent my freshman year, I was one of maybe fifteen people of Asian descent in a class of 800. I often felt like the only Chinese kid in the state. Many of my classmates saw me as the ambassador and defender of all things Asian. I was constantly harassed with questions like “What are you? Wait, let me guess!” “Are you a citizen? Your accent isn’t that bad!” “Do you know karate? C’mon, show me some moves!” And things escalated from there, but the point is that I was judged and teased because I was not like them. I was the Asian kid, even to my own friends.

These weren’t bad kids. Many just couldn’t see past the label they gave me, and I quickly realized that defending my heritage and family traditions isolated me even further. I decided to avoid the topic of race at all costs to save myself from humiliation.

Eventually though, I began to think of myself as the stereotype they made me out to be. It pleased them most when I embraced their image of me, and so to fit in and gain their respect, or so I thought, I became the jokester. I would make jokes about myself and my heritage. But in doing so I lost my own self-respect and I felt disgusted. And so even though I spent seven years in the state and called it home, I never quite felt comfortable in my own skin.

That was my lens coming into Bay as a transfer student in my sophomore year. I didn’t think high school could be any different, and so I came in with some shields up. The first thing that happened was my world got a lot smaller. First of all, my class was a tenth of the size — you could fit them all on a stage. Each morning we would meet together in the Great Room as a single community, instead of having daily announcements filmed and then shown in a hundred classrooms scattered throughout the school. We would eat lunch together in a single dining area instead of picking between the three cafeterias.

This closeness defines the culture of the Bay School. I noticed how friendly and at ease Bay students were. They took care of one another and they coexisted. I felt like I was entering a family. And, as the first few weeks rolled by, they sat with me at lunch, invited me into their study groups, and smiled at me in the halls. Each of them made me feel welcome in their own way. They weren’t interested in my racial makeup and they didn’t ask questions like “What are you?” or “Where are you really from?” They were genuinely interested in who I was and what I had to say. The best part was that they were content with that and they were happy I was here.

One of the first people I met was a kind, young man named Sam Lopez. As I was getting to know him I asked Sam how he kept busy, and he told me: “Well, academics are very important to me and I love engineering and physics, so I take a lot of courses in those fields. But, I’m also taking a course in ethics. And I love to play saxophone, so I’m in the Jazz Band at Bay, and I have my own band too. I’m also a starting pitcher on the baseball team, in addition to being a cross-country runner and a basketball player. I’m also an avid fisherman. And I love photography. Oh, also, mountain-biking is something I enjoy doing as well.”

Wow.

“Okay, Sam, but if you had to choose one that defines you, what would it be?”

And he looked at me and he said, “Jack, at Bay, we don’t have to choose.”

I didn’t really understand what Sam had told me until I met more students from my class and realized that almost all of them had diverse and passionate pursuits, none of which defined them absolutely. I realized Sam was right. Bay students pride themselves on their authenticity, not their sameness. They do not live in fear of scrutiny but instead forge their own paths with creativity and bravery. Courage, self-expression, inclusion, kindness — these are the virtues that my classmates exhibit daily.

It was quite a departure for me coming from a world of labels and fixed identities. I was thrilled — I had found my people. The other students didn’t act like anything was out of the ordinary, but I realized that in my hands was a golden opportunity. I was being given the chance to learn and thrive in a school where I felt understood and genuinely valued. This is the gift Bay gives to all its students. My classmates and my teachers — you inspired me, as you do each other, to lower my shields and find strength in who I am. And you do it every day by just being yourselves.

I know my high school story may seem a trifling one. There are people my age in this world who endure suffering and isolation that I can’t even begin to imagine. I tell you this story because we often forget that for millions of children across the country and the globe, school is a place where masks come on and walls come up. I tell you this story because on this day and in this bubble that we live in, all may seem well with the world, but out there that world contains conflict, injustice, and hate. It is a world that does not care about your feelings, a world we will soon be venturing out and meeting head on. I tell you this story because I know how easy it is to fall in with the herd and become what others want you to become. But I also know the power of living with authenticity and kindness.

A friend from Minnesota asked me recently, “How can you ethically accept your diploma, particularly from a private institution, which represents such privilege and advantage in a world that is so troubled and unequal? I thought for a long time about this, and actually Tim Johnson captured what I was feeling on Monday during Morning Meeting. He asked us to bring Bay with us wherever we go and wherever we end up. And I came to realize that the diplomas we will be receiving today represent more than our accomplishments. They have to. They are a promise we make to inspire change in the world with the gifts and tools we have been given here at Bay. Because you see, when we look back at our experiences in high school ten, twenty, thirty years from now, I want us to do more than laugh and remember how foolish we once were. I want us to look back and find meaning in our time here, meaning that has manifested itself in our lives and the lives of those around us.

So the questions I would like all of us to ask ourselves today are: “How will I take Bay into the world? How will I live with authenticity and kindness? How can we collectively make those hard steps in life a little softer?”

I wish the very best to the Class of 2014 and I give my humblest thanks to the adults in our lives who have sacrificed so much to make this moment possible. Thank you.

– Jack Jue, Class of 2014

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