Thursday, June 22, 2006

yuri k.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I feel like the past week has flown by in the blink of an eye.


Saturday we had our parent/ student orientation for our 6 week summer program. 200 kids plus their parents/ guardians/ siblings, plus 50+ summer staff. A while back, I wrote about meeting Yuri Kochiyama through my friend Aaron. Because of that meeting I was able to get Yuri to be our keynote speaker! Although I was very excited, I was also very scared. I had to introduce Yuri (scary b/c, well… she’s Yuri); I had to introduce her in front of 500 people (scary b/c I’m good at speaking to large groups on the fly, but not good speaking to large groups w/ prepared material); I’ve had a crazy cough for the last week (scary b/c I didn’t want to get into a coughing fit); and I wasn’t too sure what Yuri was going to talk about (scary b/c I work for a big university). Our keynote speakers have traditionally been professors or faculty and nobody I work w/ knew who Yuri was in the first place (after they read her bio, most people were excited). Anyway, I talked w/ Yuri probably once a week for the last month setting this up. I gave her a topic: the importance of education. I let her interpret this however she wanted. Two days before she went through her notes w/ me and everything sounded inspirational and relevant. On the day of she basically said everything she told me she was going to say. She talked about seeking truth, thinking critically, working together, returning to your community, learning from everyone, etc etc. Everything she said she was going to talk and also linked it to the war in Iraq and the Vietnam war. She talked war for about 15 minutes. Now this was unexpected. Call me a pansy, but I was little worried. Our program is in such a precarious position. We have no funding for next year; we are expected to boost the number of black students in our program w/out directly targeting black students (the outcome of working in educational outreach post-affirmative action); we had to turn away 200 students for our summer program and have a bunch of angry parents; and we also have some incompetent leaders who won’t stand up for our program in our unit, in the university, or in the UC system. So yeah… I was a little bit nervous.

BUT here is the beauty of a keynote speaker. You can’t ask someone to come speak and coach her/him. You can’t cut them off, your speaker is your guest. So then I could relax.

A beautiful moment? Yuri was talking about Helen Keller’s teacher Anne Sullivan but couldn’t remember her name. One of the parents yelled out “Anne Sullivan!” Yuri says, “Yes! Annie Sullivan! Thank you! What is your name? “ “My name is Daisy Bates—“ In unison Daisy and Yuri say, “You were/ I was named after civil rights activist Daisy Bates from Arkansas!” That was pretty cool… Well, who am I kidding? It was awesome to have Yuri come out and speak to our families.

In the end, there were some disgruntled parents (“Is everything in this program so political?” Sadly, no.) But overwhelmingly parents, staff, and students were touched by Yuri’s words.

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