Donald Hones, a professor of curriculum at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, delivered the commencement address at the University’s commencement ceremony Dec. 19.
Here is a transcript of his speech:
“Graduates, guests, fellow workers:
“When I was asked to speak today, I thought to myself, ‘What can I say? I have no special wisdom.’ Then I thought, ‘I’ll talk about my dad.’
“My dad never went to college, he never had a big salary, but he supported a family of 11 children, we never went hungry, and we all grew up knowing how to work and how to value education. My dad loved to tell stories about the places he had visited when he was in the Navy during World War II. He encouraged us to explore the world. He used to ask, ‘Why do we need passports? People should be able to show their driver’s licenses at the border and go on through.’
“A world without passports: This was the dream of my conservative father.
“When I began my own travels through the world, I found out something else: I had family everywhere. They had different last names, different languages, different cultural practices, different skin tones. However, from the moment I met certain individuals, I knew that we were family.
“Let me share three pieces of wisdom I learned from my greater family. The first is ‘Nyob Zoo.’ Repeat after me: NYOB … ZOO. Good! That means ‘Hello!’ in Hmong. Literally, it means “Live Well.” My Hmong brothers and sisters fought a war on behalf of the United States during the Vietnam era. Most lost family members in that war. They lost their homes and their country. Here, in the United States, the Hmong community has overcome obstacles, worked hard, maintained important cultural traditions and found success. They have taught me the meaning of how to live well.
“The second piece of wisdom is ‘Mi Casa Es Su Casa.’ Repeat after me: MI CASA ES SU CASA. Very good! It means ‘my house is your house.’ These are words of welcome to strangers to help them feel part of the family.
“When I look at my country, I see the millions of new immigrants who have come from Mexico and Latin America who have worked hard to build our homes and offices; to harvest our food; and to contribute to our economy, society and arts in many, many ways.
“Should they live in the shadows, paid low wages and constantly fearing deportation? What does ‘family values’ mean if we allow parents to be deported and children left behind? What does it say about us if we are comfortable with a border policy that leaves hundreds and thousands of children, women and men to die crossing the Arizona desert? As a nation of immigrants, we can do better than that. To my hermanos y hermanas from Latin America, I would say, ‘Thank you for your hard work. Thank you for sharing your strong family values. Bienvenidos. Welcome. Mi casa es su casa. My house is your house.
“The third piece of wisdom I would share is ‘Salaam Alaykum.’ Repeat after me: SALAAM ALAYKUM. Very good! It means ‘Peace be with you.’ This is the standard greeting between people throughout the Muslim world. Like believers in other religions, most Muslims are people who want to live their life in peace and respect and freedom. Whether one lives in Oshkosh, Wisconsin; Gaza City or Waziristan, as humans we have the right to live in peace, to be treated with respect and to have the freedom to think freely, speak freely and live our lives freely. Building walls, whether on the Mexican border or in Palestine, does not promote peace. Nor does the presence of armies of occupation. Think about it.
“For those of you who graduate today and to all others gathered here: Nyob zoo — live your lives well. Have pride in yourself and be a pride to your family and your community. As you leave home and form new communities, remember the power of ‘Mi Casa es Su Casa’ — my house is your house. Welcome new members into your greater family. Finally, Salaam Alaykum: Peace be with you. Find peace inside yourselves and let it be a light that will shine for all the world to see.
“Every day is an act of creation. You are the creators of a new reality. Vayan con Dios. God Bless!”
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