Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Read Jin's Inspiring Harvard Commencement Speech

A “Major Conspiracy” at Harvard

Commencement Speech - 2006

Jin Kyu (Suh) Robertson

I must be a slow walker. It took me sixteen years to climb up to stand here today.

Or maybe I am a slow learner. It took me five decades to realize the purpose of my life.

One snowy winter night in Korea, a twelve-year old girl was standing outside her Mother’s tavern while carrying her baby brother on her back, trying to help him fall asleep.

Behind the steamed glass door, she saw her Mother arguing with town drunkards and her Father trying to separate them.

Then along with the drunkards, her Father came out to go to work at the railroad station.

With a broad smile, he patted her head.

As his rusty bike slid away precariously over the frozen snow, his small back soon disappeared into the dark alley, leaving behind a thin trace of white smoke.

She then heard the sobbing voice swirling in her heart: “It’s not our fault to be born poor. And what we are born into does not decide how we must live! Someday, I will become somebody and take good care of you.”

Thus began my long journey to arrive here today.

Studying, I believed, was the only way. But I found myself working as a factory girl and a waitress. As my hope faded, I was ready to let my life go.

But that’s when I saw a newspaper ad, looking for a housemaid for a family in America.

On a sunny spring day in 1971, the statue of liberty welcomed me to my new beginning. I spoke very little English and had only a hundred dollars to my name. But I was happy. I was only twenty-two and had a dream.

But life in America was full of surprising turns. At twenty-eight, I ended up as a private in the U.S. Army. Heading to the training camp, I was devastated to leave behind my eight-month old baby girl.

But fourteen years later, as a captain in the U.S. Army, I joined the scholars at Harvard for a master’s degree. Best part? All expenses paid by a generous relative: our wonderful Uncle Sam.

Studying at Harvard for a woman in her early forties while competing with the young and the restless was quite a struggle.

What a relief that was to make it through and return to the army in one piece. But less than five years later, I bade farewell to the bright prospects of an Army MAJOR and came back to Harvard for a bigger challenge: the doctoral degree.

Following this “MAJOR MOM,” my daughter Jasmin joined our Harvardians. Mother and daughter side by side together searched for VE-RI-TAS, making new history in this yard.

Professor Gomes confessed that it was his first time: baptizing a child first then the mother in this very church.

Jasmin graduated in the year 2000 and, this time, left me behind. She is now an army captain standing watch to defend our wonderful way of life.

I was even given a chance to teach the undergraduates. I am sure you all agree with my assessment. They know everything. They are never wrong and never shy in speaking their minds. Indeed, this tough ex-soldier was scared by this challenge. Then it occurred to me. There was something I could talk about with no fear. Life itself!

Into the curious minds of my book-smart students, I poured life stories of real people in lands far, far away from Harvard. Hoping to awaken those endless possibilities, I even shared the story of my own life.

I said, “We cannot choose our own birth. We cannot escape from death. And we cannot have more than one life. But we have a choice of how to live. Make your life as best it can be. It is a chance that will never come again!”

I saw my students reassessing the meaning of life and searching for their visions.

In fact, one of them took a year off from school, worked as a bartender in Shanghai, and returned to Harvard the next year. He confessed that it had not been easy to make a living on his own in a foreign country.

But he proudly declared that in the process he learned the most important lesson in his life: To appreciate a wonderful lifetime that awaited him.

I then realized the true purpose of my own life: Sharing hope with those feeling hopeless and sharing courage with those building their destiny. And it occurred to me; I finally had become that somebody of my childhood dream.


It was Harvard that brought us here together from all walks of life to make a difference within and without, for now and for the future.

Ladies and Gentlemen, fellow graduates of 2006.

For those who want to live, the sky is the limit.

Give life to your dream. Then it will give you a wonderful life.

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