Senior Speech: Selena Chen

Click above to check out our ThingLink, an interactive look at senior Selena Chen’s speech in assembly on Nov. 9, 2015.


Delivering this speech is a big challenge for an introvert like me. I thought I could recall the senior speeches from last year and be inspired. But the truth is I can’t remember a single word they said. This realization is liberating and enables me to proceed without any fear that I might inadvertently talk you into abandoning your interests in sports or academics for the frivolous delights of picking fonts for the yearbook or drawing swans and candles on T-shirts.

I have racked my mind for what I should tell you today ever since the day that I optimistically signed up for this speech. I thought I would have a pocket full of stories to tell, but I don’t. You might be looking at me right now, thinking, “Oh, she is just another typical nerdy Asian – quiet and shy, good at math, and suck at English.” Well you are only partially correct. That is who I was when I first came to Darlington my sophomore year. If I were still that girl, I wouldn’t have the guts to stand up here and give a speech before all of you. I am here for a reason. Let me share with you 2 advices that I wish I had known when I was younger. Stacy, listen up.

First, don’t let fear stop you. You might think the Haunted Attic this year was pretty scary, but trust me, coming to the US from across the Pacific is far worse. Well part of it is because Rome, GA is nothing like the “New York” and “Vegas”, the version of America that my dad had promised me when he talked me into coming here. The other part of it is the changes that I had to deal with. I want to let those of you who are fortunate enough to have English as your first language know, English is a difficult language to acquire. I can still remember when I was in a fast-food restaurant my first year in the US, I was confused as to why the cashier asked me if I wanted to “catch up” with my fries. I later learned that it was the American way of saying “tomato sauce” – ketchup. I can still remember the day that I asked for a “rubber” in my Art class sophomore year, how the whole class stared at me in amusement as if they were looking at an alien from another universe. I was embarrassed to learn that in the US, you call it an “eraser”. American English is very different from the British English I learned in China. When I didn’t understand what people were talking about, I would only ask, “excuse me” three times. By the third time, even if I still didn’t understand, I would act like I did because I feared that people would see me as an illiterate fool. Being a typical wonderful teenager my sophomore year, easily embarrassed by those awkward mistakes, I decided to avoid unnecessary talking that might divulge my inadequate English skills. This wasn’t a wise choice, because first, staying quiet does not get you very far in Mr. McDurmon’s AP US History class, and second, the fear of failures and mistakes will hinder you from advancement. You won’t get better at English without practice, without making mistakes, without being corrected. Overcoming fear works in a similar way. Your fear does not lie in the situation you are in. It lies within you. Avoiding the situation does not solve the problem. Courage does not mean you don’t feel afraid. I am still afraid of talking to people in public. Courage means that I don’t let fear stop me from grasping the opportunity to speak to all of you. Do one brave thing today, then run like hell if you feel really embarrassed.

Second piece of advice, use your inexperience as your asset. To quote Natalie Portman in a more international-student-friendly term, “accept your lack of knowledge,” cope with it, and use it to your advantage. I was so oblivious to my own limitations that I did many things at Darlington that I was woefully unprepared to do, including this speech. The very inexperience that had made me insecure during my first year at Darlington pushed me to take risks that I didn’t even know were risks. I just got the position as the managing editor of the yearbook this year. Honestly, I was quite blind to the challenges ahead of me when I applied for this position. I assumed from the title of my position that all I had to do is abuse my power, yell at people force them to turn in their stuff on time, and listen to the Editor in Chief whine. Should be a lightweight, I thought to myself. My complete ignorance of my own limitations looks like confidence that seems to convince Ms. Forgette some how that I am capable of doing some design work. When Ms. Forgette asked me if I could design the yearbook cover, I told her that I was basically a professional graphic designer, which by the way, I whole-heartedly believed when all I had been doing was doodling in notebooks and designing T-shirts, and one of them being the very infamous swan for Light the Lake last year. It quickly became clear as I started designing, that I was perhaps four years of college or further away from being a graphic designer. Not only did I have to figure out what a “pica” was, I also had to learn how to work with them in InDesign and some how come up with a not-so-crappy-design within a week to appease our demanding rep and nitpicking Editor in Chief. It made me work a million times harder. To be honest, that experience still brings me nightmares, but it was definitely the most meaningful thing I have ever done at Darlington for Darlington. The point I am trying to make here is that if I had known my own limitations, I would never have taken this risk. This arduous risk that I have taken introduced me to a whole new field of art. To quote Natalie Portman again, “As we get older, we get more realistic, and that realism does us no favors.” So, young people, wake up if you’ve been sleeping all along. Make use of the fact that you don’t doubt yourself too much right now. If dive into fear does not work for you, then dive in your own obliviousness. Being egotistical can be good if it makes you try things that you would otherwise never try. Inexperience and insecurities free you of the burden of how things are supposed to be, and will lead you to forge your own path, one that is unconventional.

Now take some time to look at the people sitting next to you. They are the people who made, are making, and will make Darlington such an incredible experience for each one of you, just as the people around me have done for me. Treasure your time here, for your shared experience of this time would never come again. Take many photos with those people, it might turn out to be extremely valuable if any of us becomes the future president of the US. Learn from their mistakes, because you can never live long enough to make them all yourself. The biggest asset the school offers you is a group of peers that will both be your family and friends for life.

I hope that even if you don’t remember a single word of mine, you will remember that you are here for a reason. Remember how your Darlington experience has transformed you and led you on an unconventional path of your own.

Thank you.