"Even lifting a paper is easier together"

Jiyeon Lee's Undergraduate Commencement Speech
Jiyeon Lee delivering her undergraduate commencement speech

Dear graduates, esteemed faculty, proud parents, and distinguished guests,

Today, as we stand on the threshold of a new chapter, I am honored to share a few reflections on the journey we've embarked upon together—a journey not just for academic excellence but for meaningful existence.

I entered college with a set of beliefs that I thought were carved in stone. I believed that studying hard and achieving high grades were the be-all and end-all. That academia at a prestigious institution and from that, choosing a future of success and certainty, was all there was to do in this chapter of life. How mistaken I was.

The message, as I came to realize, is far more nuanced and beautifully complex. This dawned on me not in the silent study halls or the bustling lecture rooms, but in the rich interactions and experiences I had with my peers. College life, in its infinite diversity, taught me lessons no textbook ever could. 

Each person I met brought a different story, a unique perspective shaped by battles fought and won or even lost in the quiet corners of their lives. And yet, despite these differences, we all grappled with the same fundamental questions: What kind of future do we want to carve out for ourselves? How should we navigate the innumerable paths that life offers us? What defines right or wrong in a world that thrives on ambiguity?

Engaging in countless conversations, I learned the profound value of pulling together, of weaving our individual threads into a stronger, more resilient fabric. I learned that while our backgrounds may differ drastically, the future is a canvas we paint with collective brush strokes. Our shared experiences in college have shown us that while there may not always be clear answers, there is immense power in seeking them together.

In this journey, I encountered the wisdom of a Korean proverb, "백지장도 맞들면 낫다," which translates to "even lifting a paper is easier together." This simple yet profound phrase encapsulates the essence of our shared human experience—the belief that burdens become lighter when shared, that any challenge becomes surmountable when faced as a collective.

The greatest lesson I carry with me is not found in the assigned texts or weekly discussion boards, but in the hearts and minds of the friends and colleagues I've had the privilege of knowing. It is the lesson of cooperation, and of the transformative power of dialogue and empathy. Many of the problems that once seemed insurmountable became manageable, even trivial, when I opened myself up to the perspectives and support of others.

As we stand poised to step into the world beyond these walls, let us not forget the unseen curriculum we've all been a part of. The lessons in coexisting and compassion. Let's carry forward the understanding that while our paths may diverge, the questions we face are universal. And in this shared journey of seeking, there is always room for more voices and more hands to lighten the load.

As we move forward, let the knowledge we've amassed be our guide, but let the wisdom we've gained in understanding and supporting one another be our compass. The challenges of tomorrow may be daunting, but remember, "백지장도 맞들면 낫다." Together, we can transform challenges into opportunities and burdens into triumphs.

To the class of 2024, congratulations on your achievements. As you embark on this next phase, armed not just with knowledge but with invaluable life lessons, know that you are ready. Ready to face the uncertainties, ready to make a difference, and more importantly, ready to carry and share the load, making each burden a little lighter for someone else.

Thank you, and may your futures be as bright and as boundless as the potential within each of you.

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