I am truly honored and grateful to speak at the commencement for the University of Maryland, Class of 2017.
People often ask me: Why did you come to the University of Maryland?
I always answer: Fresh air.
Five years ago, as I step off the plane from China, and left the terminal at Dallas Airport. I was ready to put on one of my five face masks, but when I took my first breath of American air. I put my mask away.
The air was so sweet and fresh, and oddly luxurious.
I was surprised by this. I grew up in a city in China, where I had to wear a face mask every time I went outside, otherwise, I might get sick.
However, the moment I inhaled and exhaled outside the airport.
I felt free.
No more fog on my glasses, no more difficult breathing, no more suppression.
Every breath was a delight. As I stand here today, I cannot help, but recall that feeling of freedom.
At the University of Maryland, I assume feel another kind of fresh air for which I will be forever grateful — the fresh air of free speech.
Before I came to United States, I learned in history class about the Declaration of Independence, but these words had no meaning to me— Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness.
I was merely memorizing the words to get good grades.
These words sounded so strange, so abstract and so foreign to me, until I came to University of Maryland.
I have leaned the right to freely express oneself is sacred in American.
Each day in Maryland, I was encouraged to express my opinions on controversial issues.
I could challenge a statement made by my instructor. I could even rate my professors online.
But nothing prepared me for the culture shock I experienced when I watched a university production of the play— Twilight: Los Angeles.
Twilight is a play by Anna Deavere Smith about the 1992 Los Angeles Riots.
《暮光》是Anna Deavere Smith导演的一个关于1992年洛杉矶骚乱的话剧。
The riots followed acquittal of four Los Angeles police officers in the videotaped arrest and beating of Rodney King.
For six days, the city was in chaos as citizens took to the streets.
In Twilight, the student actors were openly talking about racism, sexism and politics.
I was shocked, I never saw such topic could be discussed openly.
The play was my first taste of political storytelling, one that makes the audience think critically.
I have always had a burning desire to tell these kinds of stories, but I was convinced that only authorities on the narrative, only authorities could define the truth.
However, the opportunity to immerse myself in the diverse community at the University of Maryland exposed me to various, many different perspectives on truth.
I soon realized that here I have the opportunity to speak freely.
My voice matters.
Your voice matters.
Our voices matter.
Civil engagement is not a task just for politicians. I have witnessed this when I saw my fellow students marching in Washington DC, voting in the presidential election and raising money for support various causes.
I have seen that everyone has a right to participate and advocate for change.
I used to believe that one individual participation could not make a difference, but here we are, United Terps.
Together, we can push our society to be more just open and peaceful.
Class of 2017, we are graduating from a university that embraces a liberal arts education that nurtures us to think critically, and also to care and feel for humanity.
We are equipped with the knowledge of various disciplines and we are ready to face to the challenges of our society.
Some of us may go to graduate school, some us may step into professions and some of us may begin a journey of exploration.
But no matter what we do, remember, democracy and free speech should not be taken for granted.
Democracy and freedom are the fresh air that is worth fighting for.
Freedom is oxygen. Freedom is passion. Freedom is love.
And as a French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre once said: freedom is a choice, our future is dependent on the choices we make today and tomorrow.
We are all playwrights of the next chapters of our lives. Together, we right the human history.
My friends, enjoy the fresh air and never let it go.