Friday, June 17, 2011

Commencement '11

As fate would have it, I received a phone call a few weeks ago from the principal at Santa Cruz High.  Although I’ve done a good bit of teaching over there, summer was on the horizon and I couldn’t quite place why she’d be reaching out at this particular time.  It didn’t take long for her to bestow upon me one of the greatest honors I’ve received in this lifetime.  Keynote Speaker at Graduation. 
As the day drew nearer I began to jot down ideas and coordinate my thoughts for the event.  With a good deal of stage and classroom speaking time under my belt, I wasn’t too concerned with nerves or organization.  So long as I could step to the microphone with some notes as a reference, I felt pretty comfortable addressing the students off the cusp so to speak. 
Well, the day came, and as I strolled at the front of the procession, smack dab in the middle of shorter district representatives and school heads of staff all adorned in black gowns, I couldn’t help but say, “(Damn)…I feel like OBAMA!”  It was great. 
Photo by Pamela K. Iriguchi
Even better was standing on the stage, watching the students file in.  There was an overwhelming sense of pride emanating from both them and their parents looking on.  It was truly powerful. 
As the last of them made their way to their seats, the principal stepped to the mic and said. ”Students, you may be seated.”  However, NO ONE HEARD HER!  She glanced back at the soundman, baffled.  Yes, the unthinkable was happening.  Before a good 3,000+ people, the mic was not working!  All too familiar with the unreliable nature of sound systems, I smirked knowing full well we were in for a ride for the next few minutes. 
Initially, I wanted to jump up and snatch the mic and start checking it…”Check Check..1,2 1,2”  Then I thought to grab another mic and make the switch.  Without question out of everyone on the stage, I was the most comfortable with handling this kind of situation.  BUT..I was THE keynote speaker.  I had to keep some dignity about me! So I sat.. and I sat..and waited for the sound man to do what he was being paid to do.  After the longest 3-5 minutes of our lifetimes, there was still no sign of progress.  I could sit no longer. 
Pamela K. Iriguchi
I stepped beside the pulpit, looked toward the students and said let’s clap…We started slow and progressed to fast.  Basic and fun.  Next we moved on to the wave.  Started it with the students and passed it on to the parents.  It took a few tries, but by the 3rd time we managed to get it going all the way around the stadium.  With that, I returned to my seat and whispered to the Assistant Principal, ”You’re on your own.”  A couple of minutes later they managed to generate sound. 
As the principal began addressing the students, I reached into my coat pocket and pulled out my notes, to review my progression speech wise.  No sooner than I did, did she begin to start her shpeal about me.  I looked at the AP and said…”I’m on NOW?” 
She said, “Yep.” 
I was stunned.  I could’ve sworn the keynote speaker came well into our ceremony back in the day.  But I can’t say that I recall so clearly now a good 10+ years removed from my most recent graduation.  Regardless, the time was NOW and I was extremely uncomfortable as I stepped to the microphone. 
Pamela K. Iriguchi
But that was just the tip of the iceberg.  The moment I began to speak, one of the students started to toss a blow up girl around the student body.  It was absolutely hilarious!  But quite a distraction to fend with in the opening of such a meaningful moment.
With no time to waste on account of our delay, I jumped right in despite the diversion.  It took a good while for the buzz to die down and the focus to return, but I pushed through and continued to deliver, all the while that voice in my head was screaming “What the fuuuuck?!?”
Needless to say, my rhythm was disturbed, but this is graduation.  It’s not like the classroom where you can stop the students and say, “Hey, I’m trying to tell you something important right now and you’re over here playing with dolls.”  You can’t tell the parents, “Hush folks, I’m tryin to give these kids some guidance.” simply push through.  And that’s what I did. 
Pamela K. Iriguchi
I drew parallels between graduation and the Rites of Passage ceremonies that take place in cultures throughout the globe. Discussed the balancing of passions and practicality. (Can you believe? J)   Addressed the power and uniqueness of the stage of life they are in and how they have the opportunity to guide their lives toward whatever it is they’re passionate about.  And a myriad of other nuggets before closing out with a story about my good friend Awad, from Sudan, who told me right there by the Red Sea in Egypt that no matter if I’m on TV or in magazines, a millionaire or just a good father… I will be and am A STAR.  It was powerful. 
Pamela K. Iriguchi
And then I sat…and wondered…just how bad that speech was?  It felt choppy, disorganized and anything but smooth.  I couldn’t believe it, right there before thousands of people, I failed to rise to the occasion and capture the moment.  But as they say in Egypt, “Hallas.”  It’s done.  No turning back, no undoing…it’s done. 
And when graduation was done, all those doubts were put to rest.  Students, parents, teachers, Grandparents, they all came and shared a different part of the speech that spoke to them.  For me, that was the most meaningful part, seeing all the different generations who were touched by the message.  I even got a Hallelujah in the middle of one part!
It was awesome…and still continues to be.  Now when I walk downtown, I get stopped by people I’ve never met before who were there and were moved by the words that spoke through me.  It’s absolutely HUMBLING.  Not only to be given such a beautiful opportunity, but to feel a purpose much greater than me has been served. 
God Is Good.  (and so is Buddha and the rest of em!)

Monday, June 13, 2011

The latest on Japan from Shux Wun

I recently reached out to everyone I build with via email with a life update detailing some of the beautiful events that have aligned for me of later.  In return, I asked them to fill me in on what's been going on with them.  A good friend of mine Shux Wun who has been in Japan since I left almost 2 years ago filled me in on what the transition as been like for him and those surrounding since the recent earthquake.

DJ Sarasa, Shux Wun, A Homey, Mr Free

Well, following the biggest natural disaster in world history a few months ago here, things got pretty difficult. I lost a lot of students (not perished, just stopped taking lessons) and lost video clients. People were not focused on the extras, just their immediate needs and watching their pockets closely. Aside from losing over 20,000 people to the tsunami there are tons of people who survived but now have no home. Then to add to that, so many people who were unaffected by the quake and tsunami but forced to evacuate their cities due to the radiation in their areas... so needless to say, it's a bad situation for a lot of people here still.

Tokyo was virtually unaffected, however, the initial fear of radiation affected everyone here. I left Tokyo for awhile and stayed in Osaka, as did thousands of others who were unsure about the actual reach of the radiation. The government here did a very good job of keeping their people in the dark about everything, so a lot of people decided to either leave the country or go farther south until further notice...
I left because within the first two days after the quake I found out that all the foreign embassy offices here had moved their locations to Osaka... so what's good for them is good for me I figured. Also, all the convenience stores and supermarkets in my area got completely wiped clean of dried foods, because we were facing electrical blackouts and our refrigerated foods became a problem. People panicked, hording and whatnot, although in a much more peaceful manner than what would have happened stateside... nobody was robbing and stealing to get theirs here, from what I know of. However, the greed was blatant although more polite.  I bounced south and Osaka was perfectly fine, no problem finding food and nobody seemed concerned about radiation.

After a bit of research it was realized that the radiation levels were very minimal in Tokyo (but that doesn't include the thousands of gallons of contaminated water dumped into the ocean and potentially affecting our seafood). I returned to Tokyo and things back in the neighborhood were better at the supermarkets and whatnot, but still a very tense feeling in the air about what we all are really facing concerning the radiation. Upon more research I realized that even if there were radiation affecting us, it wouldn't be a health risk for another 15 or so years as something like cancer may develop, but that would be the extreme case in being exposed to a high level on a daily basis. As of now, even American and other foreign experts are reporting a "no health risk" situation for this region. So, I feel a bit better but not completely at ease... but enough to keep me here I guess. :)

If you're interested in seeing more...Shux put together a few videos as well  (March 14th 2011) (April 3rd 2011) (April 23rd 2011)

Keep Japan in your prayers!