MASUMOTO: To valley grads: Fall down 7 times, get up 8

May 25, 2013 

Editor's note: Masumoto gave the commencement speech at UC Merced on May 19. This is an excerpt from that speech, expanded to include high school graduates.

To the graduating class of 2013:

You are forever part of this valley. You have earned your certificate of authenticity, your valley diploma.

Part of your life will always be grounded in the dirt here. Inside all of you lies what is called a placed story; a seed has been planted, then grown into part of your personal history you cannot delete. Some will try denial, but you are part of this valley forever.

For some of you, your diploma becomes your ticket to escape this valley. You may be embarrassed by who we are. You can't wait to depart and never look back. But you are here now.

I admit that I ran away and left for college. But it was too late — too much had happened inside of me; the valley had left a mark and I came back, forever. Over the years, life lessons from this place matured into memories that defined who I am. This place grows on you. Our life journey may only make sense later, when we look back and connect the dots.

Our valley provides the perfect locale for transitions. For growing up. Finding love. Discovering hate. Standing up for what's right. Feeling disappointment. Soaring with achievement. We have permission to make mistakes here and understand the capacity to forgive and be forgiven, surrounded by family and community.

The valley is not Los Angeles nor San Francisco. It's a place sometimes lost between two mountain chains and in the shadow of urban centers. A place that's beginning to define itself to the world, a place finding its own voice. Every one of you graduates contribute to that voice. Your diploma is your license to scream to the world: You matter because you are from somewhere.

In this valley, we have a front seat to fundamental changes in our nation. Immigration reform, high speed rail and the Affordable Care Act will change this place. We were once a rigid people, intolerant and narrow. I believe it's different now.

We live in one of the most diverse places in America. Look at the faces around you, graduates. Look at the families and communities who honor you: Latinos, Asians, blacks and whites. Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, those with other religions and some with none. Gays, mixed races, blended families. Tall, short, wide, skinny. Old, young and those acting very young. Rich, middle class, poor, and we cannot forget the very, very poor.

The face of the new world is upon us and a power is granted to those who understand and have lived within this diversity. You know this. You have learned how to thrive with difference. Excel with inequalities. Take refuge in the distinctive. Find comfort in the mixed-up world.

Yes, mixed up. We are part of a changing world and emerging out of that mix will rise a beacon for innovation and creativity. We will not be satisfied with the status quo. You will hunger for more; that's why you honor yourself and your family with a graduation. You possess the willingness to accept, adapt, adopt and excel. And now you add your face to the photo mosaic of this valley.

Is there a valley tattoo all graduates should wear proudly? What logo or image or words capture the artistic expression on our own flesh? For me, my valley tattoo would be a Japanese phrase that tells the story of immigrants in this valley, a tale of our challenges here in this desert land that captures the spirit of the "other California." My tattoo would read nana korobi na oki, which means fall down seven times, get up eight.

It's my personal mantra for the valley, a slogan of our daily lives, a destiny for our futures. Fall down seven times, get up eight.

As you graduate and leap into the next part of your life's journey, wear our valley tattoo proudly. Carry our valley spirit into the bright future. Fall down seven times, get up eight.

Masumoto of Del Rey, an award-winning author and organic farmer, writes about the San Joaquin Valley and its people. Email: masmasumoto@gmail.com.

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