First Generation Student Speaker: ‘You have as much right to be here as anyone else’ applies to college and life

Student speaker Blai Yang addresses the commencement audience.

Freshly minted UW-Green Bay graduate and morning commencement speaker Blai Yang knows all about “imposter syndrome.” As a First Generation college graduate, she experienced it while participating in the Rising Phoenix program in high school and her undergraduate years at UW-Green Bay. She anticipates she’ll encounter it her entire life, as will her fellow graduates. “Remember that you were chosen and you are enough. You have purpose and trust that everything will happen when it’s supposed to. You have as much right to be here as anyone else,” she reminded the full house gathered for the morning Spring Commencement ceremony at UW-Green Bay’s Kress Events Center Saturday morning.

That was just the beginning of Yang’s advice for the graduates of today and in the future. For today, however she reminded those in attendance to enjoy the moment. “You are safe. You are loved. You are present. You are a graduate. Congratulations, Class of 2024!

Watch her remarks at timestamp 12:35.Read Blai Yang’s full Commencement address here:

Good morning faculty, staff, graduates, family, and friends. To those who don’t know, I am a Student Ambassador. At the start of every tour, we deliver our personal ambassador intro, this will be my last one today. “Hello! Welcome to UW-Green Bay. My name is Blai Yang. I am from Manitowoc, WI. I am a senior studying Democracy and Justice Studies with a Social Justice emphasis and a Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies minor.” Unfortunately, I won’t be your tour guide but I’ll be your commencement speaker today! 

We all gather to celebrate big achievements for ourselves and/or loved ones. To my fellow graduates, we did not achieve this easily–we worked so hard for these degrees and we should be so proud of ourselves because we earned it! 

Our years at UWGB have been a journey–many ups and downs. 

Accomplishing many achievements while also experiencing struggles. I learned about imposter syndrome here. According to the National Institutes of Health, the definition of Imposter syndrome is “self-doubt of intellect, skills, or accomplishments among high-achieving individuals.” I have personally experienced this and learned that many others share this experience as well. For me, I felt like I didn’t deserve many of my accomplishments and I would always doubt myself. I felt like I wasn’t enough, out of place, and like I didn’t belong. 

Currently, I’m still learning how to overcome the imposter syndrome. The best ways that I’ve found that have helped, is to talk about it, grow to love yourself, and find the beauty in struggles. To know that you are not alone is comforting. If you felt like this, you still feel like this, or maybe you’ll feel this as you search for the right career, remember that everything happens for a reason. Remember that you were chosen and you are enough. You have purpose and trust that everything will happen when it’s supposed to. You have as much right to be here as anyone else. This also applies to where you are headed next. You have to believe in yourself. 

At 17, I graduated with my Associate’s Degree at UWGB through the Rising Phoenix Program. Here I am again, at 19 graduating with my Bachelor’s and speaking at commencement! I heard that there are 114 Rising Phoenix graduates here today. That is so exciting! I remember being 1 of the 20 Rising Phoenix graduates in Spring 2022. One of these Rising Phoenixes is my little cousin, Mary Yang. Mary, I’m so proud of you and I love you. Congratulations! 

As a Hmong American who has an immigrant parent, I’d like to honor the Hmong community, First Gen College Students, students with immigrant parents, or those who may be immigrants themselves. This takes much bravery and courage to blindly come into countries and communities where you don’t know anyone or you are alone. 

I want to honor my parents for being the strongest people I know. They worked so hard to give me and my siblings the life and opportunities that they didn’t have. My dad, an immigrant from Laos, came to the United States searching for a new future with his brothers. The bravery he has and how he’s grown as a father and a person is admirable. My mom, the most loving, intelligent, and incredible mom ever. I don’t know a better role model and person. After high school, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue higher education but because of my mom, she convinced me to go to college. And look at me now. I’m the Commencement speaker! Thank you Mom and Dad for everything and I love you both. I’m proud to be your daughter. 

Many of you sitting in the seats in front of me have had the opportunities to develop connections with professors or be involved in organizations. As you move on, continue to make a positive and inclusive impact in your communities. You all are a remarkable group of graduates and I know you all will do amazing things. 

Now, I want to thank those who have supported me during my time here. 

Dr. Katia Levintova has been so supportive and has given me many opportunities to grow. The Civic Scholars program and Katia have played an integral role during my last year. The impact Katia has had on me and many other students is outstanding and lasting. Katia is an altruistic, generous, and stellar professor. 

Cindy Johnson’s determination to support and encourage students is seen through students of color rising and becoming leaders. Cindy’s simple action of nominating me for a leadership retreat, called ELE (meaning Emerging Leadership Experience), set off many opportunities for me. It’s crazy to think that one decision can lead you in the right direction.  

Before the ELE retreat, I felt so lost and insecure, and I was terrified of being judged. However, talking to my peer mentors at this retreat made me feel seen. This is where and when I felt like I belonged here at UWGB. The care and thoughtfulness is something you cannot ask for. Thank you Carter Clausen, Isabel Gosse, Ben Dresdow, and Jeffrey Williems for inspiring me to become a stronger leader. Ben and Jeff are extraordinarily wise. Carter and Isabel inspired me to become a Student Ambassador. Carter also inspired me to be myself. 

What he said at the time was what I truly needed to hear. This year, becoming an ELE mentor was incredible because I saw how much the participants grew within a few days and it was an insightful experience. An important lesson I learned is that everyone is a leader because each leads in their own way. 

I want to thank the Student Ambassadors. Becoming an Ambassador changed my life and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in life. It shifted my experience at UWGB. These strong, loving, and caring leaders have shown me how to be myself and what genuine friendships are like. You will also never meet a funnier group than the Ambassadors. I aspire to be like every one of them. It’s so important to surround yourself with people you want to be like. 

Thank you and I love you A-Team. Truly an amazing group of individuals. You all are my chosen family. 

I simply would not be here and have achieved as much without all of these mentors, friends, and family in my life. You all have tremendously impacted my experience and made me feel seen. I’m not sure about many things in life but I know one thing for sure; to be seen is to be loved. With all of these people in my life, I can say that I am seen and loved. Thank you all for believing and seeing qualities in me when I did not. 

My advice to you all listening, is to stop living in your mind and start living in the moment. The only way to live life fully is to live in the moment. As you move onto the next chapter in your life, don’t forget those who have helped you succeed, and don’t forget to thank yourself too. Appreciate your friends, family, and supporters. Make sure you thank them for their unstoppable care and encouragement. Then pass on the care and support that you received from your support groups. 

I wish you all good luck and success. Remember to stay present and live in the moment, despite the game of life. Right now, you are sitting here in the bowl, probably excited, nervous, or ready to get this done and over with. However, let’s all take a deep breath and exhale to calm our nerves. You are safe, you are present, you are loved, and you are a graduate. Congratulations class of 2024!”

You may also like...