Jiin Jeong’s Speech
Thank you, Dean Keen, for the kind introduction. I am especially excited to be speaking here today as an immigrant and a woman of color.
When I look back at my time at Hamilton, I think about the many first-time experiences I had — first-time rock climbing, first guitar and drum lessons, first hockey game, first computer science class. I also think about how Hamilton allowed a continuation and cultivation of my prior interests, as I played in the orchestra, developed my faith in the Christian and interfaith communities, and took economics and language classes.
Although we gather here today with wide-ranging academic and personal interests, as well as future paths, I have no doubt that our past four years were similarly a moment of many firsts, a moment to mature and expand our passions, and a moment to get to know ourselves better. And I also have no doubt that, knowingly and unknowingly, many people contributed to our Hamilton experiences and to our being here in this room today.
A special shoutout to my umma and appa; my sisters Suin, Hyein, and Hyeyun; my grandparents and relatives in Korea. Let’s give a round of applause to those joining us in this room, on Zoom, and in our hearts and memories.
There is one special person tuning in from California that I want to talk about — Ms. Dent. Ms. Dent is my third grade teacher and my first teacher in the United States. I still remember how I got lost on the first day of school because I did not know that you had to come back inside when the recess bell rang again. Thankfully, Ms. Dent found me wandering around the playground.
One big thing I remember about Ms. Dent is her love for crafts and writing. Her word for a journal was a Lifebook, and she would encourage her third grade class to reflect, create, and write every day. At the end of the year, I finished and presented my first illustrated mini chapter book in front of friends and families. Imagine that — a girl who had barely understood English, writing a chapter book. Even when we moved on to fourth grade, she remained a key figure, starting a special after-school writing program for her past students. Every week, I wrote persuasive essays to my mom on why she should buy me Oreos, postcards to strangers, and silly poems about popcorn. Her love of writing was contagious and is one of the reasons I chose Hamilton. There is more. Ms. Dent told me that my Korean name Jiin was beautiful and that I did not need to go by the name Deborah that I took on for a year, thinking that I needed a more American name. From inspiring me to be more conscious of my eating habits to being my pen pal to this day, she made a lifelong impact.
I have been lucky to meet many more Ms. Dent’s, people who go above and beyond and inspire, during my time at Hamilton. My thesis advisor who met with me even on Sunday evenings, professors who patiently explained confusing concepts over and over again in office hours, research librarians who helped find articles and sources on even the most obscure topics, and academic center staff, teaching assistants, and student workers that read through and help revise fifty pages of thesis, this commencement speech, and long problem sets. Not to mention the generous donors who provided the financial means for me to attend college, alumni and mentors that eagerly carved out their time to offer wise words of advice, friends who would pull all nighters with you in the Burke Library, dining hall workers who would sneak you a second cookie, and custodians who would put up cheerful messages for their residence hall students. I remember the day in my senior year when I just wanted to give up. However, I walked past Matt, who is the custodian for Kirkland, and his whiteboard that read a quote by Babe Ruth, “Never let the fear of striking out get in your way,” and those were the exact words I needed that day.
As we graduate today, I hope that you will have a chance to think about and thank the Ms. Dent’s in your life, that you will find more Ms. Dent’s along the way, and that you will be a Ms. Dent in someone’s life — a person who goes above and beyond, a mentor, someone whose passion is so contagious, and most of all, a kind and compassionate human being who inspires those around you. I also challenge you to be a person who helps someone realize how beautiful their name and their presence are, improves your communities, fosters heartwarming and meaningful relationships, and thinks beyond yourself, about the environment, human rights, justice, and peace.
It is an honor graduating as a Class of 2021 with you all. I cannot wait to see you again during reunion. Congratulations and best of wishes. In my native tongue, 졸업 축하합니다.