It’s graduation time!

By Jamie Sun
Northwest Asian Weekly

UW commencement speaker Steve Ballmer (on the screen), speaking to 45,000 people (including 5,300 graduating students). (Photo by Chi-Heng Patrick Pan)

It’s that Pomp and Circumstance time of year, and in addition to the myriad of graduating APIs around the country, several successful Asian Americans were invited to speak at university commencement ceremonies. Among them, former U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke, Mindy Kaling, and Howard Koh.

“The purpose of education is not to lead a more comfortable life,” Locke told graduates at Western Washington University on June 14, “but a more useful and meaningful one.”

On May 17, at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, Dr. Howard Koh addressed graduates during the commencement ceremony. Koh has been the assistant secretary for health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) since 2009.

Koh’s parents journeyed to America from Korea a generation ago to search for the American Dream. “In doing so, they sacrificed and they persevered, for a better life for their children and their children’s children,” said Koh. “They told us kids how lucky we were to be born in this country, how fortunate we were to enjoy the rights and freedom, and how it was our duty and our destiny to live a life of higher purpose, and make something of ourselves in this land of opportunity.”

On May 28, Kaling, an actress, comedian, writer, and producer, was invited to speak at the 2014 Harvard Law commencement. She caught the crowd’s attention and laughter with her jokes about Harvard Law School, as well as jokes about herself as a Hollywood star.

Kaling is an American of Indian origin whose parents were raised in India. Her parents met in Africa, and immigrated to America. Now, she is the star and the creator of her own network television program. During her speech, she recalled what her parents taught her about America.

“My parents believed that their children could aspire and succeed to levels that could never happen anywhere else in the world.”

On being Asian at UW

On June 14, 5,300 students attended the University of Washington’s 139th commencement at Husky Stadium. The speaker, Steve Ballmer, former Microsoft CEO, said, “You will need to put in long-term effort and be hard core in order to seize the opportunities that are in front of you.”

Dada Wu, a 2014 grad from Taiwan, graduated from the communications department and earned her bachelor’s degree. She plans to pursue a master’s in urban planning or landscape architecture. “At UW, being an Asian is not much different than being other races because there are many Asians on campus,” said Wu. “There are TOSA and TSA school clubs, and other kinds of events, and I get to meet people with the same background as me. That makes me feel comfortable being an Asian.”

Kei-sing Yiu graduated with a master’s in the landscape architecture program at UW. His short-term plan after graduation is to look for a job in America, where, he said, “everyone is nice and friendly.” Yiu said his professors were very helpful and “not too picky” about his grammar problems.

Ting Ting Chu majored in journalism. She is from Hong Kong and said she is job hunting outside of Seattle because she feels like she should try and go explore a little bit more. “Right now, I am looking for jobs mostly in Los Angeles and New York City,” she said.

Chu said she never tried blending in with non-Asian communities. “I didn’t even bother to because I knew we were from entirely different cultural backgrounds,” she said. “It’s not our languages, it’s just about our ethnic backgrounds. It’s weird, because sometimes, there are people who naturally feel like talking to and befriending. They don’t look like they are Asian, but turns out they are half Asian. With that said, I am feeling great being an Asian at UW because I don’t feel lonely at all. I can still get to know friends.”

Chu said she sometimes felt nervous about being judged because she’s not a native English speaker.

“I thought I wouldn’t survive and started feeling like I shouldn’t be a journalist because I don’t write well like my classmates who are native English speakers,” said Chu. “But my professor, Caley Cook, spent so much time and effort guiding me through. She made me realize what I am good at and what I should improve on.” (end)

Jamie Sun can be reached at

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