Melba’s Address at the OML Dinner

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To be honest, I was really worried about writing this speech. Initially, I put a lot of pressure on myself to be insightful. I wanted to go deep into the issues of multiculturalism- address the sensitivities- spark some inspiration. I wanted to be Obama, or better yet, Prof. Ramon Chacon, who calls himself the gangsta with a phd. Until I realized, I’m only a sophomore in college, and though I’m from “the East side” of San Jose, I’m obviously not a gangsta with a phd. Don’t get me wrong- I definitely don’t discredit the experiences I’ve had in my 19 years of life. And yes, I’ve gone through a whole year college, but I’m not ready to impart profound wisdom to my peers or all of you. But at the same time, I didn’t want to be too shallow and tell you stuff that you might have already heard a 100 times. I especially did not want to stand here and tell you “10 ways to make the most of your freshmen year”. A lot of people will say, “you have to do something because it’s part of the college experience or you’ll regret it”. Though there are definitely some things that you should try or places to visit in the beautiful bay, remember who you are, what you want, and why you’re here.

Really, there is no rule or formula on how to make the most of your freshman year or any experience for that matter. And in trying hard to do that, it’s easy to lose sight of your individuality. You know better than anyone else what you want. Sometimes, it takes a little time to discover what that is, but it’s important to know that every experience, big or small, is valuable. I believe this realization is the heart of the college experience.

You will find that as a freshman, you may be convinced that you don’t know anything, or that you are “an empty vessel”. We are young, but we have something to offer.  At the same time, it’s important to realize your potential for growth. There is a very delicate balance between confidence in oneself and openness for change. In one year of college, I have learned so much and had the chance to experience new things, which I could tell you about. Oh I’ve got several stories that I would love to share, but if I could only leave you with one thing, it would be this: The best lesson I have learned, or wisdom or whatever you want to call it, is that I have so much more to learn.

We have so much more to learn.

For one, there is so much to learn about yourself.

In high school, I thought I knew my identity, especially after writing a dozen college application essays about me and myself. But when I came to college, I was challenged on every level. I began to look closer at my identity, as a female, as a Christian, as an Indian, a daughter of immigrant parents… I also realized that I’m still figuring out my personality, and how it changes and conforms to my identity. It was only until I came to interact with my peers in a way that I hadn’t before, like living with them, did I discover new things about myself and how I think, process, react and feel.

So as you start a new chapter in your life, I hope that you will be open to learning about yourself. Challenge yourself to ask deeper questions.  Instead of just thinking about your major in terms of what you’re good at or what will enable you to make the most money, ask yourself what kind of lifestyle you want to live. What gives you joy in life, even when you are the most tired? What are you actually looking for in a career? At work, do you want to be valued for your knowledge or your personality? And use Campus resources. Go to the career center and meet with a counselor! Use Campus Ministry to explore faith. Participate in the MCC. But in all these things, continue to ask questions, because there is so much more to learn.

There is so much to learn from each other.

As I stand here and look at your faces, I see diversity. I see differences. But not the kind marked by skin color. Or eye or hair color or facial features. Instead, I see value- different and unique value. There is value in each of you here whether you realize it or not. And part of college is realizing that- realizing your worth, your potential, your gifts and blessings. Everything you’ve gone through, everyone you encounter, your family, your upbringing, your culture has shaped and formed you- just as it has shaped others. Learning about cultures is not just about going to a cultural event or sampling an ethnic food. It happens through conversations and observations. And even within our own ethnicities, there is so much diversity. I think that’s one of the challenges for the MCC- recognizing different approaches to the same culture. There is no one size fits all. People define culture. Not necessarily the other way around. So take the time to be open-minded and have some 1:1’s with the people in your life and get to really know and understand others, especially in terms of their complexities.

And finally, there is so much to learn about our world. The great thing about Santa Clara is the global perspective that many of your classes will have. So take advantage of the unique education you have here. I mentioned in the beginning to remember why you are here and basically- it’s to study. Being smart and proactive about your education is a very good thing, and apart from being a genuinely good person, excelling academics is the best honor. Earn respect by working hard. And even learning is a learning process, cause I’m still figuring out how to study well.

So I don’t know if I’ve bored or inspired you. My message to you and in a way, to myself, is that you are not small or insignificant, but you should also look forward to growth. Just remember that within and all around you, there is more to learn.

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