I would like to thank Mr. Nelson for giving me the opportunity to speak in front of all of you today. It truly is an honor.
Before my family left for the United States, I started watching American films to practice my English. Man of Steel immediately grabbed my attention. I remember staring at the television and moving closer as I became more intrigued. I was so excited when Clark ripped open his shirt and transformed into Superman. I jumped off the couch and, like him, landed on one knee. I became a Superman fanatic — I even named myself after the Man of Steel. I became Clark Wang.
The blue suit, red S-shaped symbol, and seemingly out-of-place underwear symbolize American hope. For me, though, it is the glasses that stand out. The “disguise” hiding Clark Kent’s secret identity. Just like Superman, I have a secret identity that only a handful of people know: Yidi. My two names help me navigate through two worlds. Yidi represents my Chinese self that is my heritage and my parents’ expectations. At a young age, my parents pushed me to take English and math lessons as a part of my after-school program while participating in countless competitions and exams. My parents also heavily influenced my standards. To my mother, a 99 on a test is just a better 60. She always says that a one-point difference could have a serious impact. Her high standards have a profound influence on me and encourage me to achieve perfection.
However, I have experienced more conflicts with my background in America. Because of my expectations and desire for perfection from my heritage, I had always wanted to know the outcomes before initiating any actions. As you can imagine, this thinking may have worked out great with trip-planning and shopping. On the other hand, it had hindered my ability to take risks and undermined my confidence. I had brilliant approaches to math problems, but I did not speak up because I did not know if they could yield an answer. I still haven’t asked out my crush. I hid my feelings because I was not 100% sure if she would turn around and say yes. I wanted to explore and voice my mind, but my standard occasionally caused me to doubt myself. My culture turned out to be the source of my biggest insecurity.
English was not a part of my culture. Even though English was mandatory in lower school, it was all, what I like to call, text-book English. We would just read aloud scripted conversations from the textbooks. Conversations like “How are you? I am fine thank you and you?” didn’t prepare me well for the unpredictability of the English language. As a result, I avoided all human interactions and focused solely on internal monologues. I really went above and beyond. I used to starve myself to avoid conversations with the lunch lady. To no surprise, when someone invited me to sit at her table, I wanted to bail out. Sitting at a table means more small talk, which gave me anxieties. So the best way to avoid all of that was a rejection. Her invite was my first taste of GA hospitality. I blamed myself for not taking up her offer. I wanted to integrate into the community. I wanted to live like I did before, but I was afraid to commit and step outside of my comfort zone.
Pushing myself wasn’t always easy. I was so insecure to the point that I was basically pre-scripting conversations. In class, I rehearsed what I was going to say in my head over and over again so that I didn’t sound unprepared and stutter. I was so scared to talk to people that I had to revert to texting for proper conversations. However, as time passed, I wanted a change because I realized I missed too many opportunities.
Do you ever have that moment of regret when you miss out on an opportunity? I had that feeling every single time! Seeing people speak freely and eloquently killed me on the inside. My expectations and standards kicked in. I wanted to be a part of the conversation. However, I knew that changing from an introvert to a more outgoing person wasn’t going to be easy. I told myself countless times to speak up in class or strike a conversation with someone in the halls. Nevertheless, all the courage I worked up slowly dissipated from my body, almost like a leaky balloon, so by the time I got near the person, I had no desire to talk anymore and felt an overwhelming urge to end the conversation with an “I need to go; I will talk to you later.” Once I had been around for long enough though, I started to notice the beauty of GA. Everyone’s so grounded in our shared and inclusive community, people started actively reaching out to me. That’s how I got to know my friends from day one. No more sitting alone in the dining hall chomping on chicken tenders. No more playing on my phone during advisory. No more sitting in the back row during study halls. And no more skipping school events.
In truth, after all that has happened, some things remain the same. I still have trouble talking to certain people. Occasionally, I still wait for others to initiate or revert to the texting approach. You have probably figured out that I am still bad at public speaking, and seeing this many people makes me even more nervous. When Mr. Nelson asked me to speak, I was still hesitant. However, standing here, I also realized that my struggle is ongoing. It has not yet become second nature for me to be this far outside of my comfort zone. Having been through this adaptation, I realized that I am not defined by my problems and insecurities, rather I am defined by how I live with them. My time at GA is only the starting point of this journey. Because of all my friends and teachers, I have grown into the person I am today. I am like every other student: binge watching Netflix on a school night, camping in house lounges. I have conquered cultural and language barriers and adapted while maintaining a sense of self. I owe that to my class, my teachers, and the school. I said yes to speaking today to talk about my experience, to show you my growth, and most importantly to leave a mark on this wonderful community that has helped me so much. Thank you.