The three musketeers
Among 5,000 graduates who attended the University of Washington’s 138th commencement this year, my eyes were searching for three Chinese immigrant girls who were sitting together.
When I finally found them, I was overcome with a mix of emotions. These girls are the first in their family to graduate from college. One graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science, one with a bachelor’s in communication, and the last with dual degrees in political science and sociology. They consider each other best friends, and they met at the Northwest Asian Weekly, where they’ve worked since they were high school students.
The three musketeers, as I’ve nicknamed them, have been working for the papers while going to school full time. They walked in as innocent girls without skills or knowledge, and now they are some of the most skilled employees in our office. They know how to organize and manage events, rewrite and translate articles, and perform the other kinds of unforeseen tasks that show up in the newspaper business. While it’s not uncommon for many UW students to not complete their bachelor’s in four years, all three of them did.
I was thrilled to see them growing their wings, but I have to admit, I’m sad to see them fly away so soon to start a new and exciting chapter of their lives.
The magic of the Northwest Asian Weekly is not only that it provides jobs and training so unskilled workers to be confident and productive members of society, but that it also creates many life-long friendships and bonds. (Several years ago, there was a marriage too in the Asian Weekly’s office.)
I still remember when one of the three musketeers walked through our office door offering to be an intern. It was 2005.
“The teacher said we have to complete 60 hours of internship,” said Serena Wu, then a Franklin High School freshman. She was a dutiful girl who just arrived a few months earlier from China.
She followed everything the teacher had told her to do.
I asked Wu why she picked us.
“My aunt had encouraged me to go to the Asian Weekly,” she said.
When I said yes, Wu asked, “Can I bring a classmate? She wants to intern too.”
I have to confess that, at the time, two interns were too many for us. But I believe in giving people a chance. Besides, free labor is always welcome, although I wasn’t even sure if the two girls would like working in the publishing environment.
At first, we had to find things to keep them busy. Soon, I discovered that they were smart, learned quickly, had independent minds. One would tell us what she didn’t want to do.
“That’s not my interest,” she said when we trained her to do bookkeeping.
Who should we hire?
Most companies would select the best intern to hire and make it a competitive process. Why we decided to hire both was due to two reasons. One, they have different skill sets, and two, the young people of this generation have strong computer skills, better than many of us. Frequently, they have taught me more about the computer than my husband.
A year later, we hired another high school student from Rainier Beach High School because we needed a part-time receptionist. The three worked well as a team and became best friends.
As I say goodbye, one of them is planning to move to New York and would like to work for the United Nations, another has already found a full-time job, and one is busy with interviews.
Mei, Serena, Saya, thank you for your eight years of service at the Asian Weekly.
Skipping commencement was a mistake
Ironically, my first major mistake in the United States happened during my graduation.
When I graduated from college, I was an international student. I didn’t have money to rent a gown. In between final exams, worrying about finding a place to live, moving, and getting a job, I skipped the graduation ceremony.
After the ceremony, I went to the University Bookstore and asked a salesman, “How about giving me a discount for renting a gown?”
The salesman said, “No charge. Graduation is over.” I was elated. I took pictures with the gown on and mailed the pictures to my parents in Hong Kong, pretending I attended the ceremony.
Well, I thought I was smart, saving money and fooling my parents, until I looked at my friends’ photos and my eyes instantly welled up with tears. I realized that I was the only one missing from their pictures. How much fun and how many memories I had missed just because I didn’t want to spend that lousy 45 bucks!
I didn’t realize the importance of celebrating my own accomplishments back then. I regretted that I failed to live every moment fully and didn’t know how to enjoy my success. That’s the weakness of many Asian immigrants, we know how to work hard, but don’t know how to play hard.
“Eighty percent of success is showing up,” said Woody Allen.
In my younger days, I was guilty of not participating in many things that I could have. Grads, please remember: Stop looking at your phones. Participate, participate, participate.
Spectacular UW commencement
At this year’s commencement, everything happening reminded me what I had missed for not participating in my own graduation.
I missed not only the commencement for my bachelor’s of arts, but also for my master’s as well.
As I sat through the ceremony on June 15, I enjoyed all the pageantry and pomp of the grads marching, the dignified procession of the faculty and president, the colorful graduation caps and tassels, the music, and, really, the entire atmosphere. Although it might be a little late for me to participate as a graduate, I am still proud to be a Husky and love being part of the school.
I didn’t know what to expect at the ceremony. When, I heard the emcee announce that Rachael Kim from the school of music would sing the national anthem I was amazed. Wow — an Asian American performing in front of 40,000 people! There was only one singing part in the program and Kim was it. She received a bachelor’s of music in voice.
Following Kim, two other Asian-American students also played an inspiring role in the commencement. Tanya Chan represented the class of 2013 as they presented their gift to the University of Washington. The class of 2013 raised over $64,000 to the UW counseling center for mental health services. Then President Michael Young acknowledged Robin Leong in his speech. After getting a bachelor’s degree in public and global health, Leong is headed to Nepal as part of the Peace Corps. Two years ago, she went to Nepal and volunteered in a study on how to improve health in developing countries. Young praised her selfless acts and we the audience were so proud of her.
Of the 7,700 bachelor’s degrees awarded this year, about 2,700 went to Asian students. (end)
To read the publisher’s blog in Chinese, visit www.seattlechinesepost.com.