aberdeen: (Cultural)
The seniors approached me at the end of last week, and asked me to be their graduation speaker.


Waqaa! Wiinga Anana Emily,

Kituusit? Who are you? We ask this question when we meet people, but all we’re really asking for is a name. We don’t think about the deeper meaning. There’s so much more to who we are than the labels we use. There’s so much more to what makes us human.

Who are you?
Kituusit?

Where do you come from?
Naken Taisit?

Where are you going?
Natmun Ayagcit?

What is important to you?
Ca arcaksiu?

How will you change the world?
Qaillun cimirciqsiu nunarpak?

I first met most of these graduates as first and second graders. We were in the Old School, then, with rickety classrooms and a good view of the river. I watched these small people, watched the excitement on their faces as they came to school in the morning, and I watched the eagerness with which they made each new discovery.

I was going to tell you stories about how, as first graders, they all climbed into a big cardboard box, and pretended it was a boat and they were going up to Charlie Green (and I had no idea where that was, at the time). I was going to tell you stories about watching the second graders write number after number in their notebook, just to see how high they could count. I was going to tell you about watching Troy with the Sorting Hat, when he was in Brandon’s class, or Beulah’s class trips to Hogback. I was going to tell you stories about all the little things that have amazed and astounded me over the years, and all the things that I treasure in my memory of their journey from childhood into adulthood.

There are so many stories I could tell about each one, about that journey, but the truth is, the journey is just beginning. We look back at how far they’ve come, and we smile, remembering all that they’ve accomplished. That, though, is just the tip of the iceberg.

I don’t want to tell the story of what has come before; I want to learn the stories of what they have yet to do.  Troy and Keisha, Denisa, Mary, RII, Deanna, Celine, Kitana, and Torrin – I see stories of hope and love. I see stories of challenges, and stories of strength. I see the same bright enthusiasm for what lies ahead, now, that I did when you were small.

Some of you will be choosing college; some will be choosing Job Corps, or training. Some of you will disappear for months, high seas fishing, while others I’ll see every week.  Whatever you choose, wherever you go, you have the opportunity to take the blank pages of your book, and write your own story.

When you leave this stage, you’ll be moving from one chapter to the next. What will that chapter be? Who will you become? Mother? Father? Hunter? Scholar? Citizen? Leader?
What are your priorities? What are the challenges you’ll face? What are the secrets, the joys, and the fears? How will you face them? Where do you find your strength and courage? What will you give to the world to make it a better place?

The years you’ve spent earning this diploma have taught you many things, and only some of them came from books. My hope is that you’ve also learned the more important lessons that will propel you forward. I hope you’ve learned tenacity, to keep trying even when things are difficult. I hope you’ve learned independence, to choose for yourself what’s important. I hope you’ve learned to think critically, and to make decisions that are going to take you where you want to go.

In the coming years, when someone asks, “Kituusit?” I want you to think to yourself about who it is that you’ve become. Think about who you were when you were small. Think about what is important to you.

Who are you?
Kituusit?

Where do you come from?
Naken Taisit?

Where are you going? 
Natmun Ayagcit?

What is important to you?
Ca arcaksiu?

How will you change the world?
Qaillun cimirciqsiu nunarpak?

And when you answer, perhaps all you’ll say is your name, but you’ll know, inside, who you really are.


I was a bit worried, well, about a lot of things. And,  ya know, public speaking, in general. But the speech went well. I didn't break into tears. And I had a few people come up to me, after, to say that they appreciated it. Some appreciated that I included the Yup'ik. Some appreciated that I had a forward focus. And my pronunciation didn't suck.
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aberdeen

September 2015

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