Commencement Address by Joanna Lau P’13

Thank you Bob, Board of Trustees, faculty and staff for the invitation to take part in today’s celebration.  I am deeply honored and thrilled for the opportunity to address the Class of 2012, accompanied by family and friends.

When I received the invitation from the Head of School Bob Hill.  I said “yes” without hesitation.  I have deep respect for this institution, not to mention my daughter is now a senior here. Like most parents, I have visited the Williston community many times, observed student-teacher interaction in class, attended competitive sporting events and been mesmerized by many thespian productions.  Cafeteria food also brought back memories.

There is no better way to describe Williston than the way Steve Porter, Class of ’97, did.  His production “Williston Is,” featuring the Willistonians, describes the spirit, diversity, characters and values of Williston.  Friends and family, if you haven’t seen the video, do check it out on YouTube or the Williston website.  It will make you proud, it will assure you that our future is in good hands.

While I was trying to come up with an idea of what to say to the Class of 2012, I went to my best advisor, my daughter.  Here’s her advice: Don’t embarrass me, don’t try to be like us, don’t talk too long, and by the way you have to love your speech.

Well, that didn’t give me much to work on.  So I decided to tell you a story.  Here it goes…

This is a story about Sophie.  She was the oldest of six children.  She was married at age 18 to a soldier, Joseph.  Six years into their marriage, their lives were interrupted by war.  Sophie was 24 when she took her four children and fled to a new country—uncertain if her husband would ever join them or if they were going to survive.

Happily, seven years later, Joseph and Sophie reunited.  Making up for lost time, they had four more children.  In those days, Joseph was a traveling salesman while Sophie was a homemaker raising those eight children.  Then came news that Joseph had a stroke and died during one of his trips.  Sophie was 48.  It was Joseph’s wish that children should be given a proper education, because neither Sophie nor Joseph had the chance of education.  Sophie decided to pack up the family once again and moved to the United States of America, the land of dreams, to give the children their chance at hopes and dreams.  In this new land of dreams, Sophie worked in a factory to provide for the youngsters.  Along the way, Sophie endured the loss of two sons and she stared down cancer.

Why do I tell you the story of Sophie you might ask?  You may have already guessed.  Sophie is the epitome of courage, faith, perseverance and unconditional love.

You must have courage to face challenges and unknowns in your lives.  The courage that tests your limit, your character, and your ability to overcome fear and despair.  As you enter the next chapter of your life, choose wisely, be accountable and make a difference.

You must have faith.  No matter what denomination you belong to, faith gives us strength and hope.   It is a pillar, a support structure we can always turn to.

You must persevere.  You are your own master and only you can control your destiny.  Be like a postage stamp, stick to your goal.  We all experience “the no”, “the can’t”.  But if you don’t ask, you won’t get.  Never walk away and regret, take “no” and “can’t” as learning experiences.  There are plenty of “yeses” and “cans” in your journey.

You must give unconditional love.  This is the most precious gift of all. Love with no judgment, love with no expectation, love is not just a feeling, it is also an action. It is a commitment to loving actions toward another and yourself.

There is a Sophie in each of you.  Go forth with courage in your next chapter.  Have faith in all you do.  There is no wrong, only progress.  Persevere; Rome was not built in a day.  Embrace love, for you are loved by so many.

The dedicated faculty and staff of Williston have given you the tools to pursue your dream, to pursue your passion.

You have the ability to rise to the occasion.  You have learned team loyalty.  You have learned the “time management” skill to navigate unplanned situations and the ability to adjust.  You have built lasting friendships.

Success is when preparation meets opportunity.  You are prepared.  Carry those disciplines with you wherever you go.  They will serve you well.

For Williston are…you.

Today Sophie is 86, a cancer survivor, remains independent and strong minded.  She is a loving mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.  You never go hungry when you visit Sophie—feeding others is her favorite past time.

Sophie is my mother.  She is my hero, my inspiration and my strength.  Thank you for letting me shares my mother’s story with you.

One thought on “Commencement Address by Joanna Lau P’13”

  1. Hi, Ms. Lau!
    Thank you so much for your moving, touching and inspiring speech at the Wiliston commencement! We will carry on Sophie’s Spirit wherever we go and in whatever we do. Sophie is a symbol of “I think I can” so she is successful in her life. Lucky you, Caitlin, your daughter, has that spirit!


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