McMahan speech Stafford HS 2012


Published on

Profiles in Resilience: Text & slides from commencement speech delivered to Stafford High School graduating class of 2012. Note to social work colleagues: Names & photos were changed to protect client confidentiality, unless expressed permission to use name/image was given.

Published in: Self Improvement
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total Views
On Slideshare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

McMahan speech Stafford HS 2012

  1. 1. 
 Commencement Speech Delivered to Stafford High School Class of 2012 Quynh-Anh T. McMahanMayor Scarcella, members of the school board, faculty, family and most importantly, the graduating Class of2012! It’s an honor to celebrate with you tonight.Just a quick note for you parents, because my own Mom and Dad had a tough time when I left home: thinkabout this moment not as losing a daughter or a son; but as getting an extra bedroom in your house after theymove out! You can turn that into an office, or exercise room, or whatever you want!Being here feels like being home again. I moved to Stafford in the 5th grade; got sunburned each summer at theStafford pool;spent countless hours playing volleyball and tennis and the trombone;
  2. 2. 
and ate up about a thousand Best Burgers. So yummy!Many of my closest friends to this day, I met at Stafford. My friends are gonna kill me for using these oldphotos!Life’s been interesting since graduating, mostly because of the people I’ve met along the way. So today I wantto share with you stories of some wonderful people, and about the lessons I’ve learned from them. These samelessons might be helpful to you as you venture forth. Lessons in generosity, in strength, in joy. I refer to theseas my “Profiles in Resilience”.What is resilience? There’s a saying that goes: “The bend in the road is not the end of the road unless yourefuse to take the turn."
  3. 3. 
Resilient people are those who, despite life’s challenges, adjust to bends in the road. They find resilience bymoving towards a goal beyond themselves, transcending pain and grief and barriers.Are you resilient? Maybe you’ve already faced challenges in your life & being here today is proof of yourresilience.The good news is that we are all born with a capacity for resilience; and, we can all learn to become moreresilient. Some traits common among resilient people include: 1) empathy; 2) identity; 3) self-motivation; 4)support network; and 5) a sense of purpose.I have found throughout my life that those who embody these traits the most are often those with the very least,in terms of material wealth. These underdogs have taught me that you can find inspiration in the unlikeliest ofplaces, and from the unlikeliest of people, and here are their stories.The first I’ll share is about my own family; it’s a story of how empathy trumps injustice. You see, I was born inViet Nam during wartime.
  4. 4. 
Shortly after my country fell to Communist forces, and while Mom was pregnant with me, Dad was thrown inprison for having fought for democracy alongside US forces. After Dad was released from prison, my familyfled our country in a small boat. I was just one year old.This is me. I had a really big head!We were at sea for 45 days, before being rescued by a Japanese ship that took us to safety. We left our countrywith very little, other than heavy hearts for what we were leaving and high hopes for where we were heading.Our first real home after we settled in Houston was this trailer in a poor neighborhood filled with trashy roadsand ditches, and run-down houses.
  5. 5. 
My siblings and I were latchkey kids as my parents were always working to make ends meet. We were prettyrowdy kids, so how we managed to not burn down the house while Mom & Dad were away is beyond me!As kids, we were lucky that we were pretty sheltered from our own poverty. My parents’ resilience is what gotus through. They worked hard and eventually owned some restaurants and convenience stores.At one spot downtown, Dad fed the homeless each night before closing up shop. In retirement, he preparedfood to deliver to the hungry right here in Stafford.A little under 2 years ago, Dad passed away suddenly from a stroke. This quote always reminds me of him:I never got to tell him how much I learned from those little, nameless acts of kindness and love.I believe that, because of their own losses, Mom & Dad could readily empathize with others and chose torespond through acts of giving.
  6. 6. 
What I learned early on from my parents is that life is sometimes unfair and unjust. But rather than feelingsorry for themselves, they focused on what they did have, and then shared that with the community.This is a story of how a strong sense of identity eases insecurities. One summer while in college, I volunteeredas a camp counselor serving children with HIV/AIDS. I felt out of my comfort zone because I didn’t knowanyone else at camp, and had limited knowledge of what it was like to be affected by this disease.As the buses of kids started showing up, I suddenly felt a sense of panic!
  7. 7. 
“Why was I here?...What could I possibly offer?...Would they even like me?” I was thankful that the kids wereoblivious to my thoughts, as they were busy settling in.One of the new campers took a bed in the far corner of the cabin. She arrived at camp with her few belongingsin a black trash bag. She was eight and her name was CeCe. As the kids lined up for the day ahead, she walkedup and latched onto my hand. We remained at each other’s hips the rest of the camp.I found the campers to be like any other kids – bubbly, curious, fun-loving, whiny. But I also observed thatthese children had additional life burdens as each lined up for medications and shots. It was heartbreaking tosee what their small bodies had to endure.Mid-week, after my cabin of giggly girls had fallen asleep, I walked over to my own bed, exhausted. There Ifound a note waiting for me.
  8. 8. 
Now, I had given CeCe certain identities: a poor, African American girl infected with HIV. But as I got toknow her, she showed me she was much more than that.What I learned from this experience is how a sense of identity will help you in your moments of insecurity. Icame to camp not knowing how to contribute; CeCe’s trust in me enabled me to see my own worth. So, standstrong in who you are; your sense of identity will help you overcome any self-doubt life brings your way.Now to a story of how a willingness to do for oneself will enable you to overcome barriers. My first real jobafter college was with a nonprofit working in the Fifth Ward of Houston.
  9. 9. 
For those of you who aren’t familiar, when you say “Fifth Ward” most people think: “poverty, drugs andgangs”. It was a rough neighborhood.Through my work there, though, I got to see a different side of the community. This is where I came to knowMr. Garza, a gentle man who used to visit our office. He and his family of 8 lived in a tiny 2 bedroom house onthe edge of the neighborhood.He struggled with a disability caused by an accident at work, had a few years of education, and to top it off, hisoldest son was getting involved in gang activity. Despite these many challenges, he sought to improve hisfamily’s life as much as he could. He’d bring his kids to our computer lab; and his family also gave back byvolunteering.He took English classes at our office; I was his tutor. He was a model student, showing up on time, havingdone his homework, and always having a positive attitude. I’m sure you were all model students too!One day, he shared his dream of moving into a nicer house, one that would fit his family and offer them a safeenvironment. A perfect opportunity came when Habitat for Humanity started a project in our area. Weimmediately signed up the Garzas.After months and months of waiting and working, they finally moved into their new house.
  10. 10. 
He and his wife proudly gave us a tour, and between tears, he thanked us for supporting him in his dream.Through my neighbors in the 5th Ward, I came to learn that your willingness to solve your own problems trumpsany barriers. Seek the help you need, yes, but then take the initiative to follow through, and you’ll soon findthat you are bigger than anything that stands in your way.And finally, a story of how important support networks are. Now, I’m not talking about the social networks of2000+ Facebook friends you have; I’m talking about those few people you can call up at 3 in the morning witha problem.About two years ago, a small group of volunteers and refugees gathered to work on a project. We hoped tosupport refugee women from all over the world who were now here in Houston – women from Africa, Asia andthe Middle East, who had fled war and violence and persecution.
  11. 11. 
They didn’t have much. But what they did have were strong traditions in knitting, weaving and sewing. Theywanted to put those skills to work and we wanted to help them do so.At our first meeting, the women were very shy, unsure of themselves, fearful of how they would survive in theirnew country. I decided to ask them if they had anything they wanted to share.At this invitation, the women’s shyness gave way, as they pulled out beautiful scarves and hats and table linens,traditional to their cultures…all things they had made by hand.The vibrant colors and textures quickly covered our meeting table, transforming it into a living, breathingmosaic. At that moment, their remarkable journeys merged on that table, and this is how The Community Clothprogram was born.It’s a nonprofit microenterprise where refugee women come together to make and sell their crafts.
  12. 12. 
Through their hard work, the women have made money to buy groceries, pay bills and help meet their families’needs.Despite the fact that these women came from a history of deplorable poverty and violence, they resolved tocome together to form a new community and a much-needed support network.What I learned from this experience is the importance of networks. Be grateful for the people who encourageyou; nurture those relationships. In turn, be a support for others and you’ll find that these networks can helppropel you toward a more hopeful future.Another truth I’ve learned about networks is that we are all interconnected. I am you 18 years from now; youare me, with fewer wrinkles. My nagging, but loving parents are your parents; CeCe is our little sis; Mr. Garza,our sweet uncle; and the refugee women, our wise aunties. So the more we help one another, the more we helpourselves. The rising tide lifts all boats.
  13. 13. 
So now you know that empathy, identity, self-motivation and support networks are all traits of resilientpeople. What’s the final commonality?:a sense of purpose. This includes having big goals for your life, and living life in a way that goes beyondyourself. Whether it’s educational aspirations, a desire to serve others, or to live out your faith, we all have aspecial purpose in this life!You may not yet know what your purpose is, and that’s OK…some people 3 times your age still haven’t figuredit out! Just know that you were created for something more…so continue to seek that purpose for which youwere born.And in that seeking process, you’ll likely find that life is tough and that there is no magic formula. There willbe times when you will face adversity, and your resilience will be tested.You’ll fall, repeatedly, but the important part is in standing back up. And in so doing, you’ll also find that lifeis filled with laughter, with wonder, with goodness. Remember: “The bend in the road is not the end of the roadunless you refuse to take the turn." Have courage, take that turn, be resilient. God bless you.