Monday, May 30, 2011

APICD Speech 05/2011

This speech was shared at the Asian Pacific Islander Commencement Dinner at Pomona College in May, 2011. The Asian American Resource Center produces this annual dinner in the Frank Blue Room. Highlights of the evening included a keynote speaker, dinner, slide show, graduating speaker, 2 award presentations and the presentation of the orchid leis to the graduates. Graduates each then shared 30 seconds of closing remarks and the AARC invited all graduates and alumni to stay in touch.

An Open Letter to Graduates
Keynote Address

by Alison De La Cruz

Dear Graduates,

I’m so honored to be here to celebrate with you. First, I want to give a shout out – to your parents and siblings; cousins and friends. Now, I ask all the parents in the room to please stand up. Thank you for the support you have given your graduating senior. Please let us applaud you. Let’s give them a big round of applause. (Applause).

Thank you always to the staff and students at the AARC who invite me and honor me with this speech and the award that will be presented later. My time at the AARC and here at Pomona was truly special – I began working at Pomona months after graduating from the University of Puget Sound. I was determined to engage in the community and find ways to impact students’ lives.

By the time I heard about the AARC - I had already been through a rigorous interview process, been the 1 of 2 final candidates for a nice job– but I was ultimately rejected. I got depressed. I had not given up – but I was starting to feel in a dent my armor of hope. I simply put trust in the universe and believed all my friends when they said – “Don’t worry the job you are REALLY supposed to have will come.”

And so it did – through the Asian American Resource Center. Back then, the AARC was located in 3 small offices in Oldenborg Hall. To get into our office you had to bend down, use this tiny key to unlock a small padlock at the foot of a sliding glass door. My time at the AARC would not only strengthen my quads and calves; but my own resolve that so much is truly possible when a group of people collaborate on a task as well as the overall health and well-being of those involved in the task. My work with students and my colleagues throughout the Claremont Colleges and beyond still resonates today. My life has been enriched by the relationships that I developed in the years that I was here.

In fact, just this past Thursday I was out at the Los Angeles Theatre Center during ARTWALK, I had been standing for hours, talking to people and promoting the LA Premiere of Stories & Songs – a benefit concert for theatre company I currently work for; when a Scripps alum walked through the door. We chuckled when we were introduced to each other by the mutual friend she was with and shared a smile over our connection made oh-so-long ago.

I share all of this with you graduates so that as you face your own job search know that when I interviewed for my position at the AARC there was a lot I didn't know. I didn’t know that my work here would strengthen my relationship to the API Community and my practice of developing our artistic expression and voice. In the months that followed my own graduation, I didn’t get that job I wanted because, in fact, I was being set up for the job I needed. It is truly special that I’m forever tied to the Sagehens, the AARC and the number 47.

So here we are – to celebrate this new class of graduating seniors – and watch as the torch is being passed to the next round of AARC interns; AAMP head mentors; and student leaders.

Graduates – I again congratulate you on your success. And to the village that supported you: Parents and family I congratulate on your success. And finally, to the staff and faculty here at Pomona who have contributed to the development of these students lives – I congratulate you on your success! Its been a long time coming. I’m sure.

To mark this occasion – it feels important to share in a ritual. So, I would like to share with you a ritual that is integral to my practice as a community-based theatre artist. Something simple, yet effective. Please let’s celebrate this moment - by all taking a breath together.

Breathe in through the nose and out and through the mouth.

Our breath is central to our life. Our breath is central to our voice. Our breath is central to us. Please one more communal breath, in through your nose, and out through your mouth.

Awesome, we've shared in a ritual breath and so – onto the ceremonial task of a commencement type address. I’m community based theatre artist and cultural organizer. So I thought I would offer –5 TIPS:






Let me apologize now for the 1 perfectly placed curse word in this speech.


It seems a given in our API community, that family is an important thing, but I really want to underscore this point. My wife likes to remind me, nothing is ever promised. We make each day our own. Cherish those close to you with your time and your energy.

Cherish time, because it is fleeting – even in an age with digital this and technological that ; skype-ing here and facebook there - cherish each second with your family as if an Olympic medal depends on it. Train yourself to put down the device and engage in the present. There will come a time where you wish you had spent just a little more time or whole lot more time sitting around, doing nothing, and just being with your family. Cherish time with your family and family of friends as if you were part of a great jazz band improv’ing and playing – syncopating rhythms to discover the greatest composition of all time. The nuances of your relationships and the insight you can offer each other could spawn the next great American genre of family or friendship. And even if only you and your family know of this great treasure – it is that much more precious and valuable.

Cherish your energy because it is precious and finite – even if you feel it to be infinite today. You need only spend time with a newborn or toddler to discover that even the happiest child has a tantrum when they are exhausted and won’t go to sleep.

Cherish your parents and elders – ask them about their own personal history, your family history, your community history. Enveloped within these conversations are the support beams, hidden staircases and bountiful surprises that enrich your life and ultimately the lives of those around you. The older we get, the more we discover that our parents – are their own individual persons with foibles and follies. That they, have chapters of their own histories that have nothing to do with you. As you continue to age as an adult, you may discover that this person has an answer – not because they are your mother or your father or your auntie or uncle – but because they are a person who has lived a whole universe of experiences that you have yet to explore, know about or understand.

In the process of asking your parents and elders who they are - you may also be surprised to discover that their stories are in fact the stitches or bandages to a wound that you carry. Their insight might offer the antiseptic to the great pain in your heart or that scab in your mind that you unknowingly are picking at each time you live in self-doubt or fear. Or perhaps in hearing their stories – you become the antiseptic, stitches and bandage to their own wounds. Cherish your family and your family of friends; so that together you might heal any wounds or strengthen any weaknesses as you forge ahead into the new phases of your lives.


As you enter in the post-graduation working world – I invite you to collaborate with your colleagues. Collaboration is one of those words that a lot of people use. As you begin to define it for yourself I would encourage you to consider: No matter your field of interest; your path or profession – collaboration is an invaluable tool in your professional success.

I challenge you to discover – what does collaboration mean in your field of work? Does it involve a top down hierarchy? Or is collaboration a free flowing organic process? Is it something that is valued? Why or why not? I ask these questions because I know - collaboration is not easy – it requires clear honest and thoughtful communication. And in the inevitable event that it doesn’t always go well – true collaborators know that they need to sit down and check in about what is going well and what needs to be changed.

While capitalism often invites us to compete against each other; community process has taught me that dedication to both the task and to the people that you are working with can yield amazing results. When colleagues and coworkers are invited to participate and engage with their whole selves – their investment in the project is often stronger and their work more dedicated. When collaborating we are forced to use skills such as empathy and compassion. We are forced to use tools like active listening and risk-taking to try and develop connections to our colleagues that ultimately form the bridges of trust that can be invaluable in the times of stress while completing deadlines and deliverables.


My next suggestion is to confide in the universe or god, or the goddess, or your higher power, or your higher self. Confide in the universe your deepest fears and your wildest hopes and dreams. Search for an internal acceptance and spiritual center. When you truly come from a grounded place – your reach and impact is that much more powerful. Cherish your thoughts because they influence your attitude; your perceptions and your possibilities.

Confide in the universe or your guardian angels, the things that you want most to do and be and then discover everyday the ways to become that person – to become, as my good friend and colleague Chris Anthony says - to become your best possible self. Nurture the part of yourself that believes in awe-inspiring things. Delight in the blowing of the wind; the crash of the waves and the crackling of a fire. Don’t forget to breathe in all of the wonderful moments that the universe or your higher-power have provided for you to help you make it through the rough times. Nurture time within your life and your schedule to confide in the universe on a regular basis and explore and expand and engage with your spiritual self.


You gotta do that because tip number 4 is Challenge Yourself. You obviously have an amazing drive and passion – otherwise you wouldn’t have come to Pomona or be graduating from Pomona. As you embark on this next phase –Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If this is something easy for you – then don’t be afraid to do something by yourself. Challenge yourself – do not wait for others to set the standard – and do not worry what others will think. Don’t be afraid to be wrong. As we say in our theatrical practice – BE STRONG EVEN IF YOU BE WRONG. Because only when you fully commit to a choice – can you then discover if it is the right choice. As a friend says: “Cuz half-hearted steppin’ just isn’t going to do”. Confide in yourself the truths that are essential to the fabric of you and fulfill your own boundless potential. Trust that your higher power or higher self has a plan and challenge yourself to achieve it.


My final tip of the evening is to Cackle with Hilarity. Find humor in life. Believe in the statistics that people who laugh live longer, healthier lives. Let your body heal and cleanse with all the benefits of a good laugh. Give the gift of laughter to someone else. Let your laughter and joy be contagious that we might wipe away the darkness and remind ourselves of the goodness possible. Breathe big full belly laughs till tears run from your eyes and your cheek muscles hurt from the work out of joy. Sometimes the best joke – is the one that you write in your head or discover on your own. Don’t stifle that - engage your joy muscles – LAUGH. Laugh at the tragic turned hilarious. Cackle at the success that were hard won.. Laugh so hard you snort and then laugh some more because that SHIT WAS FUNNY! (well placed curse word)


And so I’ve offered my insight into some broad sweeping advice. As part of my duty as a commencement dinner speaker; I take seriously one other responsibility – to welcome you into the world. And the best way I know how to do that is to invite you into the larger Los Angeles community and beyond.

I offer ways to explore and expound on my 5 tips by inviting you to support the arts and cultural resources of our communities. I ask you to sustain these resources because THE ARTS are the enzymes and amino acids in the digestion of our lives’ experiences. The arts are like enzymes help us break down our experiences to process them. Our cultural resources are the amino acids or the building blocks of our community protein that keep us alive and healthy.

The Asian Pacific Islander and South Asian arts and cultural community in Los Angeles is vibrant and I welcome you. Our arts and cultural community in California is vibrant and I welcome.
Asian Pacific Islander and South Asian arts and cultural community in the US is vibrant and I welcome you. Asian Pacific Islander and South Asian arts and cultural community throughout the world is vibrant and I welcome you. We have a full and diverse menu of options for you to choose from and I invite you to engage. So here are 10 ways to engage:

1. Enroll yourself, an elder or a child in an arts or cultural class.

2. Buy 2 theatre tickets and actually attend a show at a local theatre company

3. Take an elder to an Independent Film Festival Screening

4. Buy a painting or sculpture of an unknown artist whose work moves you

5. Pay for the download of an ALBUM of a local band or musician
6. Take a child or young adult to a professional dance concert
7. Plan a trip for your family to a local cultural festival and buy stuff
8. Volunteer at a Non-Profit event
9. Become a regular donor to them

10. OR Serve as a Board Member for an Organization that you believe in.

And with that - I welcome all of you – Graduates; family members; staff; faculty and students to come and explore what is out there.


Congratulations and I look forward to seeing you out in the world soon.

Big light and much love,


Final Post Scripts:
To learn more about the Asian American Resource Center visit here:

Alumni Group:

Former Pomona College and Claremont Colleges alumni involved in the Asian American Resource Center should consider donating to the AARC as part of their planned alumni giving. Pomona Alumni you could designate that you want to support the Asian American Resource Center when you give.
5-C Alum - contact the AARC directly to find out how to donate.

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