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Student Choice Graduation Speaker, Shirley Cai

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On April 24, 2017, ISI announced the student choice graduation speaker for the Class of 2017, Shirley Cai.

See the feature here:

Now that graduation is over, we are happy to share the text of her graduation speech. Shirley is known as the “mother” figure of our international students. She is always ready with advice and a shoulder to lean on. In her speech, she shared her experience of coming to Indiana and being a new student in a foreign country. Her inspirational speech about discovering one’s self was a perfect addition to the 2017 graduation ceremony. Thank you, Shirley, for being a part of the ISI community. We are excited to see what you do in college and beyond. Forever Fearless, Forever Gryphons!

Ladies and gentleman, family, faculty, and my fellow classmates of the Class of 2017, before I begin I would like to thank all my fellow classmates for choosing me, it is such an honor to give this address. I have chosen every word quite carefully because I am fully aware of the responsibility you all have bestowed upon me.

I have asked myself what is the most valuable lesson I have learned in the past 18 years, especially these three years in the United States. I have come up with the answer: discover who you are. As Alan Alda once said, “You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You can’t get there by bus, only by hard work and risk and by not quite knowing what you’re doing, but what you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ ll discover will be yourself.” My parents have always wanted me to become an engineer who has a stable job and decent income. I, however, had no idea if what my parents wanted me to do was my true passion. In order to explore what I’m most interested in doing in the future, I stepped out of my comfort zone and came to America.

As you can imagine, I touched a low point in my life. My poor English stopped me from understanding what the teachers were teaching, ordering food in the restaurants, or fitting in the new culture. I can still remember clearly the first time I went to Starbucks; I didn’t quite know how to pronounce “Latte” and couldn’t understand what the guy said. For some reason, I ended up getting a cup of cream. No wonder he gave me a strange look. At that time, I started doubting myself: Did I really make the right decision? Should I go back to China? Even though I got a lot of help from teachers and my fellow classmates, I was completely overwhelmed. I kept telling myself: You have no choice but to hold on. Gradually, I improved my English and started to fit in. It wasn’t until then I realized that I am stronger than what I thought.

Once I figured out how to “survive” in the States, everything fell into place. After doing tutoring and starting math challenge club at school, I realized my ability to inspire people. Meanwhile, I found I had intense enthusiasm towards Chemistry and Biology.

Later on, I went to a medical workshop at Indiana University recommended by teachers, which confirmed my conviction to get into the medical field.

It has been a long way getting here for me to decide to pursue my own passion rather than simply following my parents’ will. I was fortunate enough to figure out my true passion and I know, most of you already know your major in college or even future career path. If you know where you’re going with your life, that’s great; if you don’t, it’s completely fine. You have plenty of time to figure it out as you go.

Growing up is the process of discovering ourselves, getting to know who we truly are and becoming who we dream to be. For sure, there will be obstacles ahead of us. Be fearless and optimistic. Be your own person. Don’ t be afraid of changes. It is all the excitement, frustrations, hesitations, and uncertainties that make your life meaningful and help you have a better understanding of yourself.

As we shape ourselves, and as we shape our lives, we gradually become more aware of our limits and potentials and consequently learn to adjust to what’s out there. And by that, I’m proud to say that I’ve discovered part of myself, still discovering today standing on this stage, and hopefully in the future. Looking forward to my college life and future career path, I’m thrilled and nervous. And I’m sure this is how you feel as well. I’m thrilled because I’m going to embrace one of the turning points in my life; I’m nervous as I’m going to a city that I know little about and starting another journey of exploring my passion. However, I’m not scared. Just be brave and embrace every difficulty and accomplishment in your future life. Be the participant of your own life rather than an observer. Always remember, your parents and friends are here for you. On the journey of discovering who you are; you are not alone.

Congratulations, my fellow graduates of the class of 2017! We made it. The future might be full of uncertainties, but we can seize every opportunity and strive to do our best. I wish you all the best in realizing your future dreams. Thank you all for listening!


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