Blai Yang: Amplifying Her Voice to Help Others Rise

Blai Yang is the Student Commencement Speaker for the 9:30 a.m. ceremony on Saturday, May 11, 2024.

Embarking on a college journey entails not just a first step but often includes a cascade of mixed emotions. For Blai Yang, a former Rising Phoenix whose voice is now used to support others and to give back, her initial steps on the campus of the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay began with empathy and quiet courage. “I was super shy and scared of being judged,” she remembers. But beneath the surface of her reserved demeanor was a determination – a voice – ready to grow and flourish, amplifying her personal potential and inspiring and uplifting others. Her choice to major in Democracy and Justice Studies was more than an academic decision—it was a challenge to express herself.

From the beginning, her academic voice has been loud and clear, evident through the high honors she achieved. But those achievements grow even more impressive considering the financial challenges she and her family faced. Yet, throughout her college years, Yang’s commitment to her education remained unshaken. Her resilience and potential were quickly recognized by mentors like Professor Katia Levintova, who remarked, “Blai grew so much through the opportunities UW-Green Bay provided for Democracy & Justice Studies students. Rarely do I see a student who absorbs every piece of advice and suggestion we give and follows up on every opportunity presented to them.”

Yang’s narrative at UW-Green Bay, as a proud Hmong American and a trailblazer within her family as the first to attend college, was punctuated by a poverty simulation for the Student Engagement Center training that deeply resonated with her own life. “I felt connected to the engagement process because my mom was the breadwinner, taking care of everyone,” Yang shared. This moment of reflection and empathy was a turning point, illustrating her ability to draw strength from her rich cultural heritage and her firsthand understanding of the value of education, to fuel her academic and extracurricular endeavors.

Through her journey in the Rising Phoenix Program and the numerous opportunities that UW-Green Bay provided her on campus, Yang’s once-soft voice grew into a keynote for her peers. As a Civic Scholar, she delved into the needs of her community, and as an Emerging Leadership Experience mentor, she guided the future leaders of the 2024 cohort. Her work as a Student Ambassador and with New Scholars Rising (formerly BIPOC RISE) bridged her own personal growth with her role in fostering an inclusive university experience for others. “I gained a sense of community here at UWGB and also a sense of belonging,” she reflects, acknowledging the transformative impact of these experiences on her life. “All of these involvements, as well as faculty and my friends, have played such a vital role in who I am today. I simply could not have grown as much as I did without them.”

As she prepares to take her next steps, Yang is ready to apply the confidence she’s garnered at UW-Green Bay to a consequential role with AmeriCorps VISTA, where she aims to tackle issues of poverty in the local community. Her campus involvement continues to energize her aspirations to lead. “I want to be sure each voice is heard and included,” says Yang.  “Leading my own program would be fulfilling, and to see others gain similar experiences and encourage them to rise to their fullest potential would be so rewarding!” And that leadership does not demand volume, but conviction: “I’ve learned it’s not just the loudest or the most extroverted who can lead.”

Additional information about the 2024 UW-Green Bay Spring Commencement ceremonies can be found here.

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