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Princeton University


2003 Valedictory Oration

Peggy Ping Hsu

I love Princeton. It's because I love it so much that I had such difficulty writing this speech. I started over thirteen times. I compiled twenty-one single-spaced pages of drafts. And I spent more than several late nights in front of my computer. Most of what you are hearing now, however, was not written until 1 a.m. this morning. Thankfully, it was the last all-nighter I will ever have to pull, now that I am going onto medical school. I have no more wisdom than any one of you, but I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to speak today, the last time we will be assembled together as a complete entity.

I must warn you now that I have often been accused of being a spy from Hallmark, a Queen of Sentimentality with a habit of playing exceptionally cheesy music at exceptionally loud volumes at exceptionally early hours on automatic repeat. Chariots of Fire got me through "Thesis Mania!" However, Commencement is a greeting-card occasion, and an advice-giving occasion of sorts. So luckily for me, a few Hallmarkian words don't seem to be too inappropriate.

Looking back on my four years at Princeton, there were ups and downs, experiences I expected to have but didn't and experiences I didn't expect to have but did. While my days were structured around lectures and precepts, most of the real learning occurred outside of class time and the classroom.

Frequently wandering into my advisor's office and interrupting his train of thought to ask very simple questions, I learned not to be afraid of not knowing.

Having extended conversations with and having gotten to know my preceptors, I learned that graduate students are not that scary.

Living in Butler, I learned that suffering brings people together.

Volunteering, I learned that I did relatively little to deserve my good fortune.

Deep frying in Brown Hall, I learned several things. Use a thermometer, keep baking soda handy, and don't do it while others are sleeping.

Having a younger brother in the Class of 2006, I learned that it's nice having a servant boy.

Being with my parents this weekend, I relearned the fact that I still haven't completely grown up.

Composting behind West Windsor Fields at midnight, I learned that no one tries to look for you if you're hiding in the compost heap.

Playing "My Country 'Tis of Thee" on the phone, I learned that you have to first press nine if you want to finish the whole tune and that Public Safety doesn't like it when you accidentally dial 9-1-1.

Conducting molecular biology thesis research on how yeast cells "wake up" and begin to grow after dormancy, I learned that we as graduates are not that different from yeast. We are now waking up, growing, growing up, growing apart …

Using a biological phenomenon as a metaphor for a life experience, I learned that the only people who find it clever are myself and President Tilghman.

Being terrified of giving this speech and now giving this speech, I learned that what I was really scared of was failing to live up to other people's expectations of me.

Perhaps the most important lesson, however, was one that I learned by being around all of you, speaking with you, reading what you have written, and watching you do what you love, whether it be playing basketball, playing the cello, acting out a play, singing, or dancing. If you take the effort to pay attention, people really are quite amazing.

Looking forward, my greatest hope for myself and for all of you is to be perpetually idealistic. Not a naïve idealism, but an educated one. From our studies at Princeton, we should know by now that most interesting and pertinent problems have complex solutions. World peace won't be possible tomorrow, and I wonder if it will ever be. But we should all hold some ideal in our hearts, some vision for our world and our own lives.
And we should strive for this ideal in the face of possible and even likely failure. In fact, we should sometimes be afraid of failure, because fear only comes when the stakes are high. Yet, at the same time, we cannot be paralyzed, but must strive in courage.

I end with a quote by Gustave Flaubert which for three years I had posted on my wall. This year I had internalized its message that I didn't anymore need its physical presence as a reminder. It goes, "The most glorious moments in your life are not the so-called days of success, but rather those days when out of dejection and despair you feel the rise in you a challenge to life and the promise of future accomplishment." The beautiful times in our lives are not the times when we're at the top, but instead those times when we're at the bottom and decide to go up again. Thus, commencement is itself not a glorious moment, but rather a celebration of the more glorious past moments that got us here and all the future ones that will get us to wherever we want to go.

To my fellow students and friends, thank you. To my professors and teachers, thank you. To my family, thank you. And, to Princeton, thank you.

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