Encouraging words are always welcome.
They are extra special when they come from the heart and soul of a 23-year old refugee student who is about to receive his associate nursing degree, such as I witnessed at our youngest daughter’s college graduation this past weekend.
One of two student addresses was given by a student of Vietnamese descent. His family came to America in 1986, refugees from Vietnam looking for that eternal gold egg: a better life in America. He was born two years later. In his short but effective address this student told us a few of his recollections of the family’s hardships as they tried to make a go of things–how his parents had to sleep on their living room floor being one such example. You don’t need a large imagination to try and picture what it would be like for you to go off to another country to try and start over with very little–if any–money, few belongings or furniture, and not able to speak the new land’s language very well—if at all–yet. He had to stop mid-speech a couple of times because the memories of those hardships were too much for him, but he pulled it together admirably.
He said he would be the first one in his family to achieve a college degree; an Associate of Science Degree in Nursing was handed to him later on during the ceremonies.
Young Mr. Phai Vang ended his speech with this gem: “If a Vietnamese student can work hard and get a college degree, I want to tell you that the American dream is still alive. I am proof of that.”
It was a telling reality check, as his native country and mine were in deep doo-doo with each other at the time that I was finishing up my business school program some years back. How could I not think of how far we’ve come since then?
The graduation ceremony finished off beautifully for our family as well. Our daughter was one of a handful recognized for academic achievement, having been chosen Physical Therapy Assistant Student of the Year with a pretty spiffy grade point. This didn’t happen because someone just handed it to her. She earned every single point by setting everything else aside and focusing on the things she wanted: top grades, well-written research papers, proficient clinical performance—and her diploma. People are already asking for her resume.
Phai Vang didn’t get his nursing degree because someone decided he should have it just because his family has had a hard time of it in this world. He worked hard for it sans any silver spoons of entitlement being thrown his way.
You want to know if I can tie this back to the writing life?
Sure I can. It means that just because you wrote something doesn’t mean it’s going to be good first time out of the chute. It means that just because you sent off two or three queries to a few lit agents you really shouldn’t assume that they are going to automatically take you on. It means that just because you have your MFA, doesn’t mean you know all there is to know about this writing thing. You will still have to work your buns off to make something of it.
I know there were hard times for our daughter as she worked toward her degree, and I have to believe there were times Mr. Vang wondered if he could make it.
But they both did.