Yohan Hong - Graduation Address - June 10, 2020
Three years ago, I made a decision that changed my life. I didn’t want to live in a society that focused solely on getting solid grades and studying. I wanted an education that taught me how to think critically and creatively and I couldn’t get that in Korea. I applied to Brandeis Marin and got accepted! I had to wait for almost a year while Brandeis became certified to sponsor foreign students. That was the beginning of my twisting journey in America that taught me what a true, supportive community does.
As soon as I took the first step of my journey, I had to climb up a tall wall: language. From the start, I knew that my biggest challenge would be English. I studied every day with a tutor for four hours and by myself for the rest of the time. Also, I have learned so much by talking to Nataan, like useful slang words and correct pronunciation of words. I wouldn’t have been able to speak as fluent as I do right now, if it hadn’t been for Nataan’s help. Nataan’s help and my own effort allowed me to finish the first year at Brandeis with straight As.
I realized in my first few months here, English would not be my only challenge; I faced my second obstacle. In fact, it proved to be one of the easier transitions. Adjusting to a new school with completely different systems was a challenge that I did not predict. When I first arrived here from Korea, wondering what to do, my classmates and teachers greeted and treated me with great enthusiasm and care. I wouldn’t have adjusted to the school as quickly if it hadn’t been for their kindness and welcoming heart. For instance, I recall Mr. E greeting me with a microphone when I came back to Brandeis from Korea at the end of 7th grade. In addition, everyone advocates for each other. For example, my peers always look for ways to help each other when they are done with their work. Also, our teachers are incredibly engaging with students. Whenever we go up to ask for help, they greet us with a smile. Both students and teachers strive to foster a strong community with generosity and caring hearts.
Usually, as we get closer to our final destination after a long, lethargic journey, we feel relieved. That was not the case for me. I had one more difficult stage to go through: religious and cultural differences. I grew up as a devoted Christian and started reading the bible at seven. I felt lonely and struggled to find my place. First, I made sure to go to church every Sunday and to study the bible. And at the same time, I embraced and participated in my host family’s traditions and Jewish events, such as bar and bat mitzvahs. The main factor that allowed me to embrace such different cultures and traditions is the great sense of integrity that I have never seen before. To illustrate, no one in the Brandeis community was hesitant to introduce me and guide to the warm Jewish traditions. This helped me to integrate into my uncle’s family and Brandeis while still practicing my own religion.
The most important lesson I have been learning from my journey is that a community has its own specialty and values that cannot be replaced. Some people might say they pursue money, cars, houses, education, etc… But there are two distinguishable features that make a community stand out. The first one is, in a community, people constantly care and show love for each other. Secondly, it is something we can keep forever; a community never dies. Even when I leave the Brandeis community and Nataan’s family, I will be connected and will continue to advocate for them, because that’s what a community does.