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University of Oregon

Jane Mai-Ling Maas

Spring 2017 English Department Commencement: Mai-Ling Maas, valedictorian.

Jane Mai-Ling Maas (BA English with a minor in Business Administration 2017) was valedictorian for the English Department’s Class of 2017. This is the text of her commencement speech delivered to her English peers at the 2017 English Department Commencing on June 19, 2017.

“Decide what your story is”

Hello, thanks for being here today. Unless your last name is Maas, I’m probably not the graduate you’re here to see, so I’ll try to keep this short.

One of the basic principles behind any narrative work is the concept of the hero’s journey. Some random scrawny kid receives a call to action and takes off on a quest, hoping to learn some great moral lesson and maybe save the world along the way.

College goes a little something like this.

When we accept our call to action, we were taken from our comfortable, ordinary lives and sucked into this weird, otherworldly place.

We had to learn the strange customs of this land, like “only freshmen wear lanyards,” “It never rains in Autzen Stadium,” “Closing out Max’s with Sweet Caroline.”

And in our quest for knowledge, there were the usual archetypes.

Our families represent our past, what grounds us emotionally and drives us forward.

In our amazing faculty, we have the wise mentors, who teach us how to survive and hone our own inner strengths.

And, of course, our friends and classmates are our greatest allies, who provided entertainment and comic relief but also are “ride or die” and get us through our greatest challenges. With the help of these individuals, we’ve passed our tests and accomplished what we set out to do. Maybe interpreting Shakespeare isn’t quite as sexy as slaying a dragon, but who’s to say it’s any less important?

In every hero’s journey, there’s always that brief moment of doubt, when the obstacles seem insurmountable and the future ahead becomes unclear. We begin to second-guess our choices.

Why be an English major? It’s probably not for the paycheck.

Our journey is one of passion. We’re all here because we love. Some of us love reading. Some love writing. Some love stories. I’m here because I love people.

Language is something fundamentally human. For me, books were the closest you could get to inhabiting someone else’s mind. They provided the possibility of truly understanding another human being.

It’s this type of passion, for words, for stories, for people, that compels us forward through the abyss and transforms us from awkward freshmen into the worldly graduates we are today.

Now we’re coming to the end of our journey, the resolution, and we’re about to go back to the real world, where 10:0am isn’t considered early and they expect you to wear real pants.

Now’s the part where we take everything we’ve learned and apply it, and just maybe save the world a few times, too.

Every person up here is a hero, and we’re all on our own journey.

If Spiderman is any indication, your story never truly stops being told. You just move on to the next adventure.

Now it’s off to find that next adventure.

Decide what your story is. 

Thank you.