Goddard’s The Writer in the World has posted an adaptation of my Spring 2016 commencement address for the Vermont graduates.
Here’s an excerpt:
As the child of immigrants, my parents decided that they needed to send me to an after school program to learn my ancestral language. So every Wednesday, a little grey van picked me up after my schoolday was over, and took me and about a dozen other English-Cypriot children to our weekly two-hour Greek Language classes. The teacher was Greek—as in Greek from Greece, and not from the recently-liberated-from-the-British, eleven-times-colonized, tiny island called Cyprus from where my parents and the parents of all the other children in the van hailed—so she spoke in an elevated dialect, using a vocabulary that I never heard used in the homes of the immigrant community in which I was raised. In fact, a lot of the time when she spoke, my classmates and I just stared at her blankly, unable to decipher her sentences. And she stared back at us—half in pity, half in disgust.
I was nine when these lessons began and I formed an instant hatred for them—for many reasons, most of them having to do with the shame associated with a colonized upbringing, but that would be a completely different blogpost. For today, I’m focusing on just one of the reasons: at my regular school I was an excellent student—English felt like home, but Greek, especially the elevated dialect I was being taught, made me feel less than. Later that same year, at school, I won my first national writing competition—the prize was an ink pen and the choice of a book that I could pick for myself from a cardboard box full of remaindered hardbacks.
After browsing, I chose a poetry collection—poems written for an adult audience, dealing with adult themes. Until that moment, I had never read a poetry collection. At school, we only dealt with stories. I had no idea who the poet was; I simply picked the book with the words in it that spoke to me, and when I say spoke to me what I mean is—I read some words on a page and they made my nine-year-old body feel something in a place deep beneath my skin. When I read the poems at night, I felt something. When I read the poems in the morning, I felt something. Whether I was sad or happy, when I read these words I felt something.
Read the rest at The Writer in the World.