It’s great to see so many familiar faces here this morning … and it’s a bit crazy for me to think about the fact that four weeks ago today, I hadn’t met anyone in this room. It’s amazing how much can change in less than a month. Right?
Sometimes in life I find myself asking, “How did a farm boy like me from the rural state of Indiana get the opportunity to be here?” Today is one of those moments. I don’t think I had even met anyone from China before I got to college. The first time I flew on an airplane was when I was twenty years old. … But that was also my first trip to China, and even though the trip itself was short, I could never let go of that experience, especially my interactions with China’s people. So I kept finding ways to come back for short-term trips in the years after that, but it was never quite enough.
So here I am. The story of how I came here is a long one. I’m guessing that’s probably also true for you and for the person sitting next to you. But the fact that those stories – yours and mine and that of the guy next to you and the girl next to him – that those stories have finally met is something I treasure, even more now than four weeks ago.
I’ve got a TV in my dorm room. It was sitting there when I arrived. But I have no idea whether it works, because I haven’t even tried to turn it on yet, because I haven’t had the time. And I’m grateful for that, because I think the memories we’ve been stuffing into these days of orientation are quite possibly the same memories that we’ll still talk about when we’re gray-headed, retired alumni coming back to Shunde and Weilun for our class reunions: remembering how Juke courageously volunteered to be the first one to cross that 7-meter broken bridge in our Ice-Breaking Journey; or the incredible Nirvana cover performance given by the P-Class at the Gala; or George Zhao’s calm financial proficiency in the midst of the wonderful chaos of TechMark; or how Tim Hesler simply couldn’t be convinced to give chou doufu a second chance no matter what everyone else said. I’m pretty sure I would forget whatever I could have watched on TV in my dorm, but these memories … these will endure.
Because I’m the international student representative today, that’s the voice I can speak with. So I wanted to share a couple of quick thoughts in my time remaining – speaking first to the Chinese students and then to my fellow internationals.
First, to my Chinese classmates – both in the Global class and in all the part-time cohorts: thank you. Thank you for giving us, the international students, such a warm welcome. I’ve heard that in the U.S., the majority of international students may never actually step foot in an American home. And if that’s true, then I think it’s extremely sad, and I try to do my part to change those statistics when I’m in the U.S. But that’s never been my experience in China. I’ve always been welcomed, sometimes with even more invitations than I can accept. And I’m pretty sure that’s not because I’m an awesome person, but rather because that’s the awesome nature of the people I’ve had a chance to meet, the friends I’ve made here.
Thank you for being gracious hosts even despite our language deficiencies, and even in those moments when we foreigners are completely clueless – like, say, when we accidentally steal crowdfunding gifts on WeChat because we think, “Huh. I wonder what this little red envelope is. Maybe I should click on it.” Yes – I’ve been that guy. Thank you, Sean, for responding so kindly to that moment, and all our other Chinese friends for consistently overlooking the awkward side of our cultural adjustment.
I think I also have an opportunity to speak for a moment to my fellow international students as well, and I guess there are two things about us that stand out to me: first, it’s been an absolute honor to meet so many internationals who are also excited about much of what’s going on in China at this moment in history. And second, as we find our way through the adjustment process I just described, and as we try not to embarrass ourselves too much along the way, we also have the opportunity to be bridge-builders – the opportunity to bring our corners of the world to Tsinghua, yes, but just as importantly, to take the best parts of Tsinghua and China back to the parts of the world we’ve called home for most of our lives. I believe the opportunities for us as global ambassadors are substantial, and I look forward to standing together in fulfilling them.
I wanted to share one final thought – and this is for all of us, so if you’ve drifted off into the magical world of WeiXin – I don’t blame you, but welcome back for just a minute. So as I look out at everyone, many of whom I actually know now, I see one large cohort filled with different strengths, different needs, different reasons for being here. So I want to give an open invitation to you all. My desire would be to spend this year sharing my own unique resources with you, my classmates. I hope to also grow myself by making use of yours as you allow me to. Let’s call it a joint venture of sorts. We are all part of one much larger future alumni community, and each stakeholder – that’s every one of us – has a crucial, dynamic role to play that directly impacts every other stakeholder. I’m exceptionally thankful to be linking together with each of you in the coming year and beyond as we do our part to carry forward this remarkable institution and community.