Esper Chao' 18 delivered the Valedictory Address at Commencement. It was a powerful speech that asserts the importance of bringing passion and joy to all that we do and valuing relationships over achievements or material possessions. Esper urges all of us to try harder to appreciate people for who they are rather than for external factors that may define us.
There are so many things I want to say. I want to talk to people about my feelings, my wants, my desires, my beliefs. I’ve seldom had the chance to talk about that. And yet that’s who I really am—that’s what really matters to me.
(If you'd rather listen to these remarks, scroll down to the video at the end of this post.)
I want to look beyond the labels, the things that we apparently own. I want to know a person for who they are inside. I have too many acquaintances, and too few friends. The only thing worse than being alone by yourself is being alone in the company of others. Here, a part of this community, joining in on all the fun in the crowd—yet feeling lonely inside. I wonder if some of y’all feel the same way. But it’s not like I ever asked anyone.
I have received many medals and awards in the past years. And I have received an equal amount of praise from others. All I could say in response was “thank you.” I feel like these medals, these awards, these achievements, they have overshadowed me. They have silenced me. These things have gotten bigger than I am.
Don’t be mistaken. I don’t regret doing the hours of work that led me to my awards and my other achievements. And I am grateful that I have them. Yet, it is the little moments that led up to them that mean the most to me. The moments of joy along the journey.
Above: Esper with Future City teammates, Mrs. Dunnavant, and their city, Kathahimikan in 2014.
It doesn’t seem that long ago when I was in the Middle School Future City team, led by Ms. Dunnavant. What I remember the most are all the conversations and the jokes I shared with my teammates. They were stupid inside jokes—you know how middle schoolers are—about chicken gumbo, “Da Prez”, and writing everything down. (Don’t ask. It would take too long to explain.)These jokes helped get us through all the labor-intensive work we had to do to prepare for the competition. I don’t think I ever stopped laughing with the people there in those two-hour weekly meetings. That was the joy I experienced at Future City.
Not many people know that these past few summers I worked with Mr. Gee and a few classmates, such as Zoë Evans, in Garden Club. We spent many hours tending the garden on campus. Gardening may not sound like much, but it’s not easy, and it’s not glamorous either. I got bitten by mosquitoes, stung by a bee, and blisters on my hands. We would plant seeds, not knowing what would emerge. And in the hot summer weather there was a lot of sweat.
All of this made it so much more gratifying when after a few months, we had fresh okra, watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumber, and herbs to harvest and enjoy. There were always little surprises hiding among the pesky weeds. It made our work worthwhile.
Every year in my six years on the cross country team, we would have at least one overnight meet where our coaches would drive a bus somewhere and we would stay the night. I remember one time we went to Montgomery. Jackie Howse and I were roommates. He didn’t have a phone, so we talked. Face to face. We talked about family, our motivations for running.
Jackie had this infectious optimism, where before a race he would tap my shoulder and say: “You got this, Esper!” It’s simple, perhaps, but he motivated me and made cross country a joy. And as a side effect (so it seems), my race times improved significantly my senior year.
Looking back, maybe I could have taken these activities more seriously and maybe achieved even greater things. But I think I would also have become miserable, overworked, and unmotivated. Without joy and passion for all the things I choose to do, all my awards and achievements would be meaningless.
Just like in the garden; hidden among the mundane weeds of loneliness, there are the sweet fruits of joyful moments. None of these would be possible without my 10 years at Randolph. The people at Randolph are what bring joy to this school.
Just like in the garden; hidden among the mundane weeds of loneliness, there are the sweet fruits of joyful moments. The people at Randolph are what bring joy to this school.
I thank my fellow students, my teachers, and the staff at Randolph, for their support and for creating all these experiences and memories. My dad—who is here today—and I have lived apart for so many years. I always value the times I do get to see him. And last but not least I thank my mom, for helping me as a teacher and as a parent. Thank you for reminding me what makes me special. Because sometimes I do forget.
Nothing can replace great people in your life. The trophies, the medals, the certificates, they are just things. Things, they fade away. Certificate paper gets worn out with time. Metal trophies rust in the air.
Perhaps we need to look past the things in our lives. The way we look, where we come from, what we so-call own or possess. These are just…things. We need to open our eyes and see the real person inside.
Esper is going to Carnegie Mellon and plans to study civil engineering.