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A stirring student commencement speech at St. Kate’s: ‘We are empowered with invincible strength and courage’

Yanshuo Zhang presents a gift of Shu embroidery, which her parents brought from Sichuan to express gratitude to St. Kate's.
Courtesy of St. Catherine University
Yanshuo Zhang presents a gift of Shu embroidery, which her parents brought from Sichuan to express gratitude to St. Kate’s.

Yanshuo Zhang evoked her first days at St. Catherine University in her student commencement speech for the class of 2010. The student from China remembered being a shy 18-year-old “hiding behind the cafeteria table.”

By the May 23 commencement, it was clear that Zhang had overcome her shyness and offered words of encouragement to her classmates of the Catholic women’s university. Zhang plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Chinese literature at Stanford University, from which she has received a full scholarship. Read more about her here.

Here is the full text of her speech:

Today, I am as excited as you are: This day marks the end of our four-year unforgettable journey, but also signals the beginning of a life-long exploration of who we are and what we will become.

We have written the most colorful chapters of our lives here with such fresh energy, relentless effort, unflagging hope, and deep appreciation of what we can achieve as women. The St. Kate’s education has equipped us with both a solid knowledge base and critical thinking ability to face all kinds of challenges ahead. But most importantly, it has helped us to create our own identities.

I remember my first day at St. Kate’s. I was a shy 18-year-old hiding behind the cafeteria table when other girls invited me to join them. I remember my first trip to a bowling ally during the international orientation, where I learned to understand many different dialects of English other girls brought with them from Asia, Africa, and South America. We all have vivid memories of those first weeks. In The Reflective Woman, we learned about how our classmates overcame unimaginable obstacles to become first-generation college students. Other classes challenged the social assumptions for women encouraged us to form our own identities. The breadth and flexibility of the St. Kate’s liberal arts education has shaped us as versatile student-scholars crossing the boundaries of academic pursuits.

Most importantly, we learned about how the world is connected and unified by a galaxy of cultures. For me, an international student from China, my four years at St. Kate’s exemplifies the experience of my peer international students. Here, we found a lovely home made up of sisters, friends, devoted professors, and welcoming staff members. Our friendship families are also so kindhearted that they treat us like their own members and help us transition to American culture. St. Kate’s recognizes our own cultural identities and incorporates them into building an inclusive campus. At a special moment in my GSJ class, I shared the story of how Chinese daughters were cherished as “thousands of pieces of gold” by their families. International students here interact with their American peers to broaden their cross-cultural perspectives.

Indeed, the past four years have shaped our lives. We grew to be well-rounded students, mature thinkers, capable leaders and responsible adults.

As we envision our future, our hearts are filled with sweet hopes. But the roads lying before us will not always be even and smooth. You may wonder, “What kind of job will best suit me,” or “Should I go to graduate school before entering the professional world?” You may even be worried about how to balance your professional and personal life once you have a family. But we are not afraid. We are empowered with invincible strength and courage; we deeply understand what women can and should achieve. Whether you become a K-12 teacher, a bank manager, a caring nurse, an inspiring artist, or an academic, you will excel with the St. Kate’s spirit: we have proven ourselves to be powerful women in a world that can no longer ignore our aspirations.

Note to readers: The Next Degree is running commencement speeches in various formats throughout the summer. Send yours to cselix[at]minnpost[dot]com.

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