It’s a great honor for me to stand here and deliver the valedictory speech at this special bicentennial commencement ceremony.
When I first came to the United States at the age of 15, I was an AFS exchange student in a small town called Tryon, NC. I attended the local high school, and I was amazed by the well-rounded approach to education in the US. Students are able to participate in a wide variety of extracurricular activities in addition to their regular curriculum. I value highly the education approach here, so I decided to apply for college in the United States. When I searched through colleges on CollegeBoard.com, I was deeply discouraged by the reality: the high cost of attendance would be unbearable for my family. Many schools do not offer need-based financial aid to international students, while others offer only partial support. Hamilton stands out as an exception. When I read the financial aid webpage on the Hamilton website, one sentence gave me a pleasant surprise: “Hamilton promises to meet 100 percent of a student’s demonstrated need for all four years.” It lit up my hope to pursue a quality liberal arts education at Hamilton.
It would have been impossible for me to come to the United States to study if I had not received the generous financial aid package from Hamilton. My mother is a teacher and my father is a government employee. At that time, their combined monthly income was only 7,000 RMB, which is equivalent to 1,029 USD. The comprehensive tuition and fees at Hamilton at that time were 51,904 USD. That means that without financial aid, it would take my parents more than 50 months to earn enough for my one year of education at Hamilton. For all four years, it would take them 200 months’ combined salary, which is close to 17 years.
Because Hamilton respects diversity, it offers equal educational opportunity for young people of all family backgrounds, even international students, whom it can train to become future leaders. Through the generosity of alumni and parents who came before us, Hamilton makes college affordable for all who qualify and want to join, and young women and men are admitted based on their merits and not on their ability to pay. That commitment to diversity, opportunity, and leadership has helped Hamilton build its great reputation as “a college of opportunity” and has attracted thousands of talented young people to come and join. I can feel the love from Hamilton, because Hamilton is the place that has made my dream come true.
When I arrived at Hamilton, I also experienced love from members of the Hamilton Community. As an international student, I participated in the Friendship Family Program, through which I was connected to a local family here in the Hamilton Community. My host family was Nikki Reynolds from ITS. Because I am so far away from home and only able to go back home during the summer, I feel homesick from time to time, but the Reynolds’s home has become my home far away from home. From giving me rides to and from the Syracuse airport, to inviting me to homemade dinner away from Commons, to welcoming me for four Thanksgiving holidays together like a family, I was deeply moved by their love and caring for me, without which my Hamilton experience would not have been so wonderful. The Reynolds exemplify the welcoming and warm-hearted nature of members of the Hamilton Community, which many of us have enjoyed being a part of and have made positive contributions to for the past four years.
With so much love around me from both Hamilton College and the Hamilton Community, I feel a strong sense of responsibility. I don’t want to just be the receiving end of love from people around me. I was inspired by my favorite movie of all time called “Pay it forward.” In the movie, after receiving an assignment to change the world for the better, the main character comes up with a plan called "Pay it forward," which means that the recipient of a favor does a favor for a third party rather than paying the favor back. I have tried to spread love to people around me and give back to the community. In the smaller Hamilton Community, from helping my fellow classmates work out tough math problems at the QSR Center, to teaching refugees English through the SHINE program, to helping low-income families prepare their income tax returns, to accompanying the elderly in the game of bridge, to singing at nursing homes during breaks, I have passed on the love I have received to people around me. In the larger global community, I have represented global youth at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico in 2010 and delivered a speech at the opening plenary session of the conference, in which I urged policy makers from developed countries to face up to their responsibilities and provide climate finance to developing countries in need. On all occasions, I am always very proud to tell them that I am a student from Hamilton College, and it is Hamilton that taught me how to become a well-rounded person, to love and care for others, to speak and write clearly, and to think globally.
Class of 2012, as we are starting the next phase of our lives after Hamilton, let us take a moment to think about the love and care that we have received from people around us during our four years at Hamilton. Many of us have already taken actions to pass on the love we received to others around us, so let’s keep up the great work after we leave Hamilton. As a math major, I would call it a “bifurcation of love,” when love is passed on from one person, to two people, to four, to eight, approaching infinity exponentially. In this way, love can be passed on continuously and reach every corner of the world, so the world will be filled with love.
Class of 2012, we have all overcome many challenges to get to where we are today, and every one of us has achieved success in our own ways. We should thank our parents for their unconditional love and support and we should thank Hamilton College for providing us a place to learn how to write effectively, to learn from each other and to think for ourselves. Tomorrow, we are leaving Hamilton for the next phase of our lives, and there will be many more difficulties and setbacks ahead of us. However, with persistence, courage and ability, we are trained by Hamilton to tackle all challenges and achieve greater successes. In that way, we can repay our parents for their love, support our great institution for its future success, and make a difference in our community. Thank you!