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The Grace of Being “Enough”

The prepared remarks of faculty speaker Junlei Li
Junlei Li

Senior Lecturer Junlei Li delivers the faculty address at Convocation 2022

Photo: Jill Anderson

Good afternoon, Class of 2022 graduates and families.

2022届的同学们,家人们, 大家好!(That was the same thing, in Chinese, in case that wasn’t clear.)

Actually, I thought about doing the whole speech like that. Not enough time. But I think it’ll be really fun to have a multi-lingual commencement someday. With subtitles, we can make it work!

It is an unbelievable privilege for me to serve as the faculty speaker for your graduation. And I am not the only one who thinks so. My two daughters, who – how do I put this? – have a severe under-appreciation for what I do at my job. One time, for “take your children to work day," I took them to my college classroom to show them what I really do. They sat in the front row, and both promptly fell asleep. So, for all of you who managed to stay awake in my classes – You get me! Thank you for proving my daughters wrong and giving me the confidence to go on, and on, and on, and on …

When Dean Long asked me to take part in today’s celebration, I didn’t tell my young high-school daughter for a few weeks. And then I just mentioned in passing like it wasn’t a big deal to me. But her reaction surprised me. First, she stopped what she was doing. Then, she said, “Dad, why did you wait so long to tell me?! That’s a great honor! You … you are like … Mr. Bourassa!”

Let me explain. Mr. Bourassa is her high school English teacher and track coach and was the faculty who spoke at her sister’s graduation during the pandemic year. He did all that on Zoom, with a toddler at home and a baby on the way, and his wife is also a teacher! Coming from my daughter, to be compared to Mr. Bourassa is the highest compliment.

He’s not alone among the teachers. In a 2021 study of 14,000 students across the United States, when students were asked: Despite everything that has gone wrong during the pandemic, what is going well? The #1 answer students gave across demographic groups was: teacher support and flexibility. In spite of all the challenges, our teachers found ways to stand by their students and stand with their students – sometimes, even in the face of violence from Newtown, Connecticut; to Parkland, Florida, to yesterday in Uvalde, Texas.

Today, we are truly honored to have the 2021 National Teacher of the Year, “Ms. Earth,” Juliana Uturbey as our Convocation Speaker. She represents so many teachers who deserve our gratitude – and who, no matter how many “thank-you”s they receive, still wish they could do more.

After I said yes to Dean Long, I went into a bit of a panic mode. I’ve never spoken at graduation before. I start googling commencement speeches. Do I go for the inspirational message, or should it be an aspirational message? In the end, I still don’t know the difference! So, I thought I’d better just start with what is most honest.

My most honest feeling then and now is that I know I personally haven’t done enough to support your learning and development. I have a growing list of things that I want to try, to do better. And I think I can speak for all the staff and faculty here at HGSE, no matter how each of us feels about our individual work, we together as a school want to do more and will do more. Your presence here, your enthusiasm, your sense of urgency, your advocacy have been a gift to all of us who work here. We thank you for reminding us, encouraging us, and trusting us to do more and do better for every cohort of graduates who follow your footsteps.

I also recognize that your experience here is an important but a small part of who you are. Even your Harvard degree, it does not define who you are. Instead, you will define what this education means to the world. Your being here today, your accomplishments, and your service to the world up until now and in the years to come are possible because there have been people in your life who cared for you, supported you, and loved you into becoming who you are right now.

Some of these people are sitting right here ready to hug you, some of these people are far away, some of these people may live in your heart and memories. No matter where they are, I hope you have the opportunity today to tell them, in person, on the phone, or in a prayer: “You have been enough for me.”

I have gotten to know some of you during this school year: who you are, what you want to do in the world, and what you expect of yourself. I have a feeling that this is true for many of you, if not all of you: it might be very difficult for you to ever be satisfied with what you give to the people and communities you serve. You would always think that you should do more, learn more, and give more. You wouldn’t easily give yourself credit for having done enough.

So, if I could wish for one thing, I hope that you would allow yourself the grace of being “enough.” 

You might wish to be able to give all your attention and time to the people and places you care about. But please know, when you show up fully, truthfully, authentically whenever you are with the people you serve, you can be enough!

You might wish that you would always know and understand the latest and greatest educational research and interventions. But I hope you will come to understand that you are enough because you strive to know your people and your community harder than anyone else.

You might wish to right all the wrongs in the world by fighting for every resource and opportunity just to make life safe and equitable. In that effort, I hope you will gradually discover that for your community, it is you who are the most important resource. 

You are more than enough!

So, one day, when a young person in your life turns to you at their moment of celebration and says, “You have been enough for me,” I hope you will simply bow and receive that blessing.

2022届的同学们,祝贺大家.

Class of 2022 - Congratulations to you and all who love you. 

And, to my daughter’s English teacher Mr. Bourassa: Thank you. I hope one day, your little children will grow up and fall asleep in your class too.