Culmination Address for the Class of 2015

"Make each day your masterpiece."
Coach Wooden and the Class of 2015
Over the past couple of years, a dedicated teacher at my school has founded and grown an award-winning speech and debate team. This year, she and I worked together to select speakers for our eighth grade graduation using the speech and debate guidelines for writing an Original Oratory. I have been awed whenever I hear these students speak and prepare for competition, and after seeing the expectations for this particular speech competition, I decided to try to write one as well. I haven't made an attempt at a graduation speech since I was in eighth grade, so it was an interesting exercise. I read it to my students this past week because they all helped me through a difficult time in my life. They have, and so have you, so I thought I'd share it here as well.


Just over a year ago my mom underwent surgery. It was eighth grade field day and I received text updates from my sister as I watched my students soaking in the sun and pools. I stood with my feet in the grass enjoying a few final hours with these students, but my mind often drifted to my mom, hoping for the best.

Over the next few days, Mom’s condition worsened so I flew up to Oregon to be with her and for the first time in fifteen years, I missed Emerson’s graduation. I sat in a cold hospital room while my students crossed the stage, making their way out of my classroom and into the world.

That is when I began months of missing, missing the students I never said goodbye to, and missing my mom who never recovered and crossed over a few days later. In these months of missing, I lived in the memories of the past. I remembered many moments with my students from the school year, and I remembered a lifetime of moments with my mom.

I was still remembering and missing when this school year began. My drive home was always the hardest part of my day. I used to call my mom each day as I drove home and as I navigated the busy LA streets, those streets bore witness to many tender moments of grief. At school, I missed the familiarity of my former students and thought of them as they started at high schools all over the city, hoping only for the absolute best for all of them.

But as the days and weeks passed, as summer gave way to fall, I started to move into the present. Instead of grieving for my mom as I drove home from work I began to think about what she might say to me today. As I got to know my new students, they brought with them joy, curiosity, and new stories to share.

Great American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson says, “Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could.”

I needed these words to remind me to let go of all my yesterdays and begin again to live: today. I needed these words to help me remember my mom and my former students, to allow them to continue to teach me, but I needed to stay grounded in the present, to be here: today.

Emerson also says, “Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”

Today this might be easier to do than every other day because today is your graduation. Today we celebrate all you have accomplished; all of your hard work and perseverance but isn’t that what every day is? Hasn’t every today been built on all of the hard work of every day that came before?

Yes. I am the sum of all of my days, as are you, but I will try to let go of yesterday and live in today, in the present, in the moment, with you, the people who with me share these days, these experiences, these moments.

While I was with my mom in her final days, I read Ruth Ozeki’s novel, A Tale for the Time Being. In it one of the narrators states: “A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”

My mom was a time being and because she continues to be with me, she is forever one of my time beings. You, every one of you, is a time being, as are all of my students from last year and the year before that. You are all my time beings as are all of my students yet to come.

So as you cross this stage and graduate into a new chapter in your life, I urge you to live each day. Let go of yesterday, be done with it, and make space in today for all of your time beings. Stay present in your life. Remember the past, learn from it, and then let it go. Coach John Wooden says, “Make each day your masterpiece.” I cannot wait to see what you create in your lifetime of todays.


Happy Mother's Day

A year ago I posted this poem for my mom for Mother's Day. This was before the prospect of losing her became real just a few weeks later. The last line, "who will never, ever leave" haunts me a little, but when I wrote it I knew I would likely lose her in my lifetime. I also knew her influence would stay with me forever. In her absence, I've found this to be absolutely true. So even though you aren't here in the flesh, Mom, happy Mother's Day to you. Here's another poem for you :)


From a very young age I knew
the one thing my mother hated most
was a liar.

Maybe that is why Mom and I
sometimes fought
sometimes had difficult conversations
about race and gender and politics.

She surely didn’t know
how her request for honesty
from her children
would one day backfire.

That her daughter would call her
on her white privilege ceaselessly
and casual conversations about network tv
would evolve into heated debates.

And now I wish I had been a little less honest.
Maybe a little dishonesty
would unburden me from so much regret today.


National Poetry Month: & the Words In-Between...

A few of the poems this month didn't quite fit into Death, Life or Work so those became "the words in-between." Here's one of those poems that didn't quite fit, a history in haiku form...

Family complete.
History Haiku

A winter night
in LA thick with cosmos
and love at first sight.

Moved here for some boy
but I stayed in this city
all because of you.

Single apartment
a futon and a circle
commute. Our courtship.

No-ring proposal
A summer evening wedding
Baseball honeymoon.

We didn’t know how
to be married but were good
at pretending house.

We buried ourselves
in truths and somehow became
perfect together.

First there was the pup
and then a daughter. A bite
and we lost our dog.

Unexpected loss
brings our baby boy to us
family complete.  


National Poetry Month: Work Poem

Writing Death, Life, Work, & the Words In-Between was work. And writing it reminded me of all of the work being done by so many. And in that work, there is the attempt to find balance. Here is a poem about breathing in the space of all that work.

How to Find Balance

Up early.
Feed the little one.
Hold him close
and try to enjoy
these fleeting moments.


Get up and shower.
Hope the baby is still asleep.
Eat breakfast with
the not-so-little one.
Let go of the princess shirt
and princess necklace
and princess conversation.


Steal a few moments
to write
a few words.
To capture
and see the world
in all its beauty
and tragedy.


Drive to work.
Drink the coffee.
Start checking off
the list of to-dos
before the students
enter the room.
Be kind.


Because the little one
is still so little
and this is the time
in the day when
you are connected
even though he
is far away.


Return to the to-dos
and the students
and ignore the noise
outside the classroom
that distracts from
the real work.
Eat. Coach. Teach.
Drive back home.
Pick up the kids.


Attempt to enjoy
these fleeting moments.
Hold them close.
Laugh and play.
Brush and read.


Go to bed early
because tomorrow
is another chance
to balance it all.