2021 Commencement Remarks: Ruby Lee ’21

Delivered at Bucknell University's 171st Commencement, May 23, 2021

Class of 2021, what a privilege it is for us to be here in this space, in person or online, to celebrate and commemorate an important milestone in our lives. To the staff, faculty and all community members, it is through your relentless efforts and bold leadership that we are here today. And to our loved ones and families, the ones given by biology and our chosen ones, we appreciate every moment of support and warmth that you have so generously poured upon us. 

In addition to giving thanks for all that we have gained, I would be remiss to not mention the pain we've experienced. For a number of us, we've endured a great loss in our families, and for others, moments of unspeakable grief as members of marginalized communities. For the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American, or APIDA, community, it is the loss of safety and an increasing fear of existing. In Lewisburg, it's important that we acknowledge our space on this land, which is the historical home of the Indigenous Susquehannock. What this past year has shown us is how crucial it is to be informed and present, to show up to remind others and ourselves of our humanity. 

With that in mind, I want to take us back to our first year to understand how we arrived where we currently are, and properly give homage to the place we hold. We entered from a wide range of backgrounds, but the four or so years that we have spent together sharing a community have engendered growth while making us indelibly connected as Bucknellians.

In that first year, many of us entered ready to take on the world with our blue and orange-tinted eyes. And soon enough we were tested. Some of us received our first B in class. Many of us have worked until we watched the sun rise over our dorms. We developed relationships, some that will surely endure the rest of our lives, and others we came to outgrow. And we prevailed, because we are still here. 

As academics, we learned practical skills in the classroom and on Zoom. We learned about ourselves in silent introspection and intimate conversations. Whether you can name them or not, we have chosen and refined our values in each and every one of these moments. For me, integrity, respect, humility, empathy and courage. For you, your list may look different. But, for us, this University has cultivated our minds to become who we are in the world, a crucial step of adulthood. 

This is the next chapter in our lives. To give some assurance to everyone, if we look empirically at what Bucknellians have gone on to achieve, I have no doubt that we are future leaders, change-makers and creators. And with that in mind, I want to impart one main message: the importance of empathy and courage. More specifically, the warmth and connection that comes with being empathetic, that my 엄마, the Korean word for mother, so fiercely imparted upon me and my brothers, and the courage to stick to our values that my 아빠, father, has silently set an example of. 

These moments require vulnerability. And unlike all the messages telling us to protect ourselves, counterintuitively, we cannot have thick skin. This is a revolutionary concept that Brené Brown has written about in Braving the Wilderness, through an interview with actress Viola Davis. Davis states, "They tell you to develop a thick skin so things don't get to you. What they don't tell you is that your thick skin will keep everything from getting out, too. Love, intimacy, vulnerability. I don't want that ... I want to be transparent and translucent." 

When hate crimes against the APIDA community increased over 1,900% this spring, I felt the urge to turn my skin into steel. But I found that allowing myself to be transparent and translucent led to restorative healing. It feels near impossible but we need to choose vulnerability. Choose vulnerability when you are asked to make a decision that challenges your values. Choose vulnerability in the causes you take up and champion for marginalized and underrepresented communities. And choose vulnerability in the relationships you build. And remember that leaning on this openness paves the way for empathy and courage to follow through on your convictions — because this is how we will change the world.

It has been a privilege and a blessing to attend this university. As my 엄마 encouraged me to choose Bucknell, and leave L.A., she said "말은 나면 제주도로 보내고 사람은 태어나면 서울로 보내라." Roughly translated: "People need to be placed in environments conducive to growth to succeed." May we continue to honor our first-year selves, who set out on a journey of growth to uplift ourselves and our communities. Let us allow ourselves to have transparent and translucent skin, because now, more than ever, we need to actively choose empathy and courage. I am hopeful that as the Class of 2021, we will continue to choose each other. Thank you.