It was an ordinary first day of a creative writing class at UT Arlington. The instructor had us take turns introducing ourselves, and I was about fifth or sixth. I’d gotten through my major, the town where I lived, number of years married, and mentioned my two sons–one in college and the other in high school. Before I could launch into my goals for the course or whatever else we were supposed to reveal, a voice from across the room said, “Wait… are you Eric Johnson’s mom?”
You could have knocked me over with a syllabus.
How fun to have a classmate who’d gone to school with my firstborn!
Hugh Pham’s words have continued to surprise and delight me ever since. He writes thoughtfully about his travel, ideas, changing priorities, military service, and his place in the world.
Recently he posted a greeting to his sister that could easily serve as a graduation speech. With permission from both of them, here is the bulk of his message… and a really cute photo…….
My dear Vietnamese-Australian-American/Texan sister, I’m going to give you advice about adulthood that I never got. As an adult, you are responsible for making your own decisions now. That’s a wonderful thing because I don’t mean it in a stern dad sort of way. It’s wonderful because you have choices and the ability to take ownership of your life and the person you want to be. So be a good person. At the end of each day you should reflect on your actions and ask if that’s what you are.
Society might make you think there’s some sort of way you should live or some kind of person you should be; don’t worry about that. You might also see tempting lifestyles you may want to live, but ask yourself if that’s going to keep you from being good to the people in your life. As adults, we become so ambitious and obsessed about success that it’s easy to become selfish and forget about others. You are so smart and capable that I have no doubt success is in your future, so please don’t let your achievements morph you into someone selfish and entitled. That’s a lesson from my own mistakes.
Also, life is going to hurt. So much. Our family has rough origins and of course you’ve experienced heartache as a teenager. There’s going to be more hurt. But no matter what, don’t let it make you callous and don’t shut your heart. Still be a good person. Kindness is unlike any currency in the world because although we may receive none, we can give unlimited amounts away.
Hugh, my friend, thanks for letting me share.
And readers, thanks for reading!
PS: I’ll be back next week with a “Fiction Jail” update, then plan to resume my regular schedule in May.