2018 has been such a crazy year. Sir George came into our lives unexpectedly, I’ll be getting married this year, and then one of the biggest honors of my life: I was asked to go give the Commencement Speech for my alma mater, Whittier College.
I didn’t really think I’ve have the opportunity to do this maybe until much much later in my life, but when the President of Whittier College personally left me a message on my phone, I knew something was up.
Anyway, before I share my transcript with you, I wanted to share a somewhat funny and highly stressful thing that happened the week of my speech writing. So, I’m writing my speech the Monday before I’m supposed to give the speech on Friday – giving me 4 solid days to prep. I finished the entire 20-minute speech that evening, sent it to Sam and my sister to look at, but inside, I didn’t really love it. Well let’s just say that over the course of the entire week, I kept writing and rewriting until I had made 21 different versions of my speech by Thursday night!!! I just didn’t like any of the versions! I hated all of them! I suddenly became the perfectionist student version of myself and simply could not accept anything I was doing as good enough!
I did not intend for it to go on this long, but on 4 AM on Friday morning (morning of the speech) I was STILL writing and rewriting the intro and fixing the sections in between…AGAIN!! My the wee hours of the morning, my eyelids were so heavy and splashing water on my face no longer worked. So I went to sleep with version 22 on my laptop. Then when I woke up, I began to rewrite again. Are you stressed yet? Am I crazy? Yeah, maybe.
Go time was 8:30 AM on the field. At 8:17 AM is when we printed out draft 23 with edits made that very morning from the hotel printer. And guess what? THEY RAN OUT OF PAPER. Hahahaha. But eventually it was restocked and I made it to the lineup almost right before everyone walked on the field. The papers in my hand were still warm from the printer.
So anyway, that’s how speech prep went. As stressful as EVER.
But, I am very happy with draft 23 of my speech. So here it is. The words that I shared with the Class of 2018 at Whittier College on May 18th, 2018. Enjoy.
5 Things I Wish I Could Tell my 22-Year Old Self
By: Cassey Ho
Thank you so much Dr. Van Osbree for the warm intro! And thank you President Herzberger! It truly is an honor to come back to Whittier and have the opportunity to speak you, the Class of 2018! Sharon, I don’t know if you planned this, but your timing is impeccable! Did you guys know that my 1st year at Whittier was Sharon’s 1st year as Whittier’s president? And now here I am coming back to give this year’s Commencement speech as we celebrate Sharon’s final year serving the college. Let’s give it up for President Herzberger! And for things coming full circle!
Being back here on campus makes me so emotional. I mean, when I look at Stauffer, I can vividly see the moment my mom and dad left me as a little freshman crying my face off like an abandoned child as they drove away.
When I look at the Science Building, I can see myself frantically walking up the stairs in a hoodie and top knot, trying to last minute memorize the 4 nitrogenous bases found in DNA. Guanine, Adenine, Thymine, Cytosine. Right Dr. Bourgaize?
And when I look at the CI, I remember all the food I stuffed myself with because I treated every meal like I was at Hometown Buffet. Let’s just say the Freshman 15 was very real.
Seeing these buildings again and seeing my professors again makes me realize how much Whittier played a role in sculpting me into the person I am today. So many micro-decisions were made right here, that at the time, I thought were trivial. But they ended up changing the entire course of my career.
Graduates, I am really excited to have the honor to speak to you today. From Poet to Poet and peer to peer, I really want to take this opportunity to have a real talk with you before you march across this stage into adulthood. If you’re feeling lost or unsure of what you’re meant to do, don’t worry. That’s normal. Your 20s are meant for figuring these things out. Actually, the rest of your life is meant for figuring things out, but hopefully you will have learned a few things by then.
Look, I’m not going to stand here and pretend that I know everything, because I don’t! But I can tell you 5 things I wish I could have told my 22 year old self.
#1. Love your parents. But know they’re not always right.
As a child of strict Asian immigrant parents, I also grew up being falsely advertised that there were only 3 career options for me. For my Asian brothers and sisters out there, you know what I’m talking about, right?!
And if you don’t, let me break it down for you.
Us Asian kids only had the choice of becoming a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. That’s it. Any other option was a disgrace to the family.
My dad decided he wanted a doctor in the family, so that was my fate. The problem was, I didn’t want to have anything to do with being a doctor. I had been sketching gowns ever since I was 6 – sewing clothes for my Barbies and then designing my friends’ prom dresses. But when I told my dad that I wanted to be a fashion designer, he glared at me and said:
“No. You will do no such thing.”
“Why?” I asked.
“If you become a fashion designer, you will be poor. You will be unsuccessful. So…you know what that means, right?”
“It means you will have NO FRIENDS!”
Looking back, I think it was the “no friends” part that really got to me. So I dutifully accepted my fate, tucked my dream away, and went off to major in Biology and minor in Business.
But it wouldn’t be long before I realized how painful it was to be living out someone else’s dream while sacrificing my own.
#2. Take responsibility for your own destiny.
For the next couple years, I was really unhappy at school. I clearly saw that I was putting in all my time and energy into a career I did not want to have anything to do with! I felt trapped in between familial obligations and my own happiness.
I called my parents hundreds of times, trying to explain to them how much I wanted to switch majors and pursue design. But each phone call ended in a screaming match – a war of them threatening I’d fail and me yelling that I wouldn’t. The calls always ended with me crying uncontrollably into my pillow every night. My spirit was breaking. I was so miserable.
Until – I decided to take responsibility for my feelings. Was it really my parents standing in the way of my happiness? Or was it actually me?
What I realized is that I was the one ultimately standing in my own way. So I chose not to be a victim of the situation and instead shifted the power from my parents’ hands into my hands, which gave me the permission to take control of my own destiny.
So Junior year, I decided to sabotage my perfect academic record so that there could be no turning back. I dropped out of the very last class I needed in order to apply for Med School. That class was Organic Chemistry. Sorry Dr. Isovitch but I promise it wasn’t personal.
I felt so free. So alive. I was finally living for me! With so much inspiration flooding my body, I started designing and sewing my first prototypes right up here in Turner.
#3. Do more things that make you smile, and less things that don’t.
Do you know what those things are that you would do all day even if you weren’t getting paid? Ok not watching Netflix – but everything else! The things you can’t stop thinking about.
I want you to listen to little signals your body is giving you. Don’t ignore them. They mean something. You know that feeling when your heart tenses and your breathing becomes a little irregular. Probably a sign you shouldn’t be doing something. You know that feeling when you can’t stop smiling and your stomach turns into butterflies? That. Keep doing that.
It all started with me leading some mini Pilates sessions with my floormates just for fun! The girls would gather in the common area and do some double leg lifts together after class.
It was also here at Whittier that I fatefully answered a Craigslist ad for an open Pilates Instructor position at a gym in Uptown Whittier. Turns out all those years of doing Mari Winsor’s Pilates DVDs for 4 easy payments of $19.95 was finally paying off because – I somehow got the job!
Pilates was a godsend for me. It was one of the only things really keeping me sane throughout college, especially with all the family/career drama that was happening at the time. When my parents found out I was teaching, they were FURIOUS. They told me to stop wasting my time. They told me to quit immediately and go back to studying.
But I decided to stick with the things that made me smile instead.
#4. Give, give, give and you shall receive.
Graduating from Whittier meant leaving the life I knew so well here. This also meant leaving my Pilates students at the gym for a job on the East Coast. My students were devastated.
“Who’s going to teach POP Pilates now?” they asked. “We’re going to miss you so much.”
So I got to thinking. How could we still keep in touch? How could they still work out with me? Well, that was when I got the idea to upload a 10-minute workout video to a little website called YouTube. The year was 2009 and there was no money to be made and no fame to be had. It was simply a video sharing site. And that’s what I did. I simply shared.
#5. If you’re willing to bet on anything, bet on yourself.
As I was sitting in my cubicle in Boston, I got a text from an old student with a photo of their finger pointing to something in a magazine. The text said, “Is this your yoga bag?”
My heart stopped. It was one of the bags I made in college.
I ran to the elevator, sprinted to my car, and sped over to the nearest Target. I was shaking so hard when I got to the magazine section. I tried to flip open the pages, but I kept dropping it. Finally, when I was able to calm myself down, I turned the pages slowly one by one. And then there it was. SHAPE Magazine had named my yoga mat bag one of the hottest new products of the summer.
It was now SO clear to me what I needed to do. I quit my job, I bought a ticket to China that same day and flew out to Guangzhou the next day. I was going to attend the biggest trade show in the world and find a manufacturer. I was going to go big. Because if I were going to invest in anything, I was going to invest in myself.
When I got back to Boston, I had rent to pay, groceries to buy, no income and no money. I was poor. Just like my dad had predicted if I became a designer.
But unlike my dad had predicted, being financially poor did not mean I would have no friends. I actually was beginning to make a lot of friends. Friends online, all over the world – thanks to YouTube.
What started as a genuine intention to give the gift of Pilates to 40 people at the gym turned into what is now the #1 female fitness channel on YouTube, Blogilates, with over 4 Million Subscribers.
What started as 1 class at a local gym right here in Whittier is now a real live format with over 4,000 POP Pilates classes being taught every single month all over the world.
What started as 1 sketch in the sidelines of my bio notebook in that science building right there is now an international multimillion dollar activewear brand.
And, bonus fact: What started as me asking the tutor “Will you help me get an A?” turned into that very same guy getting down on one knee asking me, “Cassey, will you marry me?”
10 years ago, Sam and I met at those fateful green tables in front of the Business Admin offices when I was a junior and he was a senior, and now we’re getting married this October!
Poets, you and I are cut from the same purple and gold fabric. We were both bred on this very same campus, by these amazing professors, taught to think outside the box with our liberal arts education. When I was here I promised myself that somehow, some way, I was going to go out there and make Whittier proud.
Class of 2018, after your caps are thrown and your selfies are taken, the next chapter of your life begins. As you write your story, give yourself the permission make mistakes, do those things you can’t stop thinking about, and most importantly, be a good human.
Good luck! Now let’s do this.