Prepared text of Jonathan York's address
Following is the prepared text of the 2013 Baccalaureate student speech by Jonathan York, a senior graduating with a major in international relations and a minor in human biology.
My name is Jonathan York. I'm not from New York. Nobody in my family is. I'm not from England, nor were my ancestors. And I'm not the rightful heir to a peppermint patty fortune.
No, I'm a York because my dad landed at JFK one cold night in 1970 and decided to be one. I'm a York because Yadegaran was too long and too foreign. I'm a York because Ellis Island was already a museum, so 15-year-old David did it himself.
Today, my family lives in Los Angeles and Tel Aviv and Tehran. I'm Jewish. I'm Iranian. I'm American. I'm Israeli. I'm an unlikely combination if there ever was one. I'm the product of my mother, whose family fled Khomeini's Revolution and landed in – of all places – Akron, Ohio, and my father, the son of a great rabbi, whose first home in America was a Manhattan subway station.
I didn't know just how much of a contradiction I was growing up, surrounded by those who looked and sounded like me. It never seemed conflicting to celebrate Norouz and Passover within days of each other. I never really knew. That was, until I came to Stanford.
Until I went to Shabbat services at Hillel and heard Ashkenazi melodies foreign to my Sephardic ears. Until I studied abroad in Madrid and had to answer time and again the follow up question, "But where are you really from?" Until I participated in Stanford in Washington and the Farsi and Hebrew skills I learned at home became strategic assets.
Yet through it all, there remained one place where for all my contradictions, I was still just Jonathan. And that's right here, at this place.
This place where I've been humbled not just by my classmates' achievements, but more often by their humility. This place of discovery, where learning begins in the classroom but extends far beyond, to the histories and hopes and fears we all brought to the Farm. This is a place where for the past four years we've had the privilege of being together, of learning and living and laughing together. We've won and lost, tried and sometimes failed. We've risen to new heights and fallen deeply in love.
Most importantly today, this is a place where contradictions are opportunities and difference is good. We all have contradictions, those that fester inside of us and those others can see.
Four years ago in our dorms, we crossed the line, sharing those contradictions – and with them our fears and histories – in hopes of finding understanding and support.
Today we look around, at our friends and colleagues, our parents and professors. We see in them all those who made our unlikely contradictions possible and their synergies beautiful.
Our parents, many of whom came to this country with little, who raised us to be Stanford students, and today, graduates. Our friends, whose backgrounds, however different from our own, colored the rich tapestries of our time here. Our mentors and professors, who took even the most stubborn among us and opened our eyes to new ideas and new perspectives.
Look around you. Take in this moment. And with the strength of our common experience, let us walk forward together, tested but not weary, to a future where from our many contradictions, we may derive but inspiration and light.