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Posted on Sun, Jun 13, 2010 : 6 a.m.

Graduation Season--coming home, heading out, and the Chinese School community

By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

At the Ann Arbor Chinese School graduation ceremony this year, all the students gathered together in the multipurpose room at Northside School to honor this year’s graduating seniors. The high school class told funny stories about them, their parents shared fat baby pictures, the school presented them with framed diplomas to mark the 15 years they have spent here (preschool to grade 12), and the two graduates took a moment to share their wise, old insights with all the little brothers and sisters about why they should study Chinese. Kevin talked about how he is going to continue to study Chinese this summer and in college. Daniel talked about how he will not know what to do with himself on Friday nights.

I was surprised to see several graduates from previous years who had gone off to college and then come home for the summer sitting at the back of the room. What were they doing at Chinese School again? The ones who used to teach the younger kids stepped right back into their old classes. Others visited their teachers and friends. Some had just come from their Chinese School class reunion for more Chinese School memories.

How important this place and this community and these friends must be to them that they gave up a Friday night to visit.

Certainly my Chinese School experience was not like that. I was always embarrassed about Chinese School because I was a terrible student who regularly scored 20 percent (and below) on Chinese School exams. I am always surprised when my old teachers proudly introduce me as one of their first San Jose Chinese School graduates.

This year, as all the end-of-year festivities and high school graduation parties began, I had the good fortune to talk with some of these college students, home for the summer or for just a few weeks before they head out again to international internships, study abroad, fascinating work and research opportunities. Like birds just touching base for a moment before they take flight again.

Wow. What a difference a year or two makes.

These young adults are so poised and so mature now. Although their parents alternate between wringing their hands and bragging just a little, I find that these young people are delightful to talk to about politics, art, academics, social issues. I helped some of them with their college application essays, so I know what they were thinking and dreaming as high school seniors. Now they are experimenting with the arts. They are reading and encountering incredible ideas. They are learning through travel. They are volunteering for nonprofits and doing research. They are studying more Chinese and Japanese.

They do not seem limited to thinking about the town or the state or even the country as their stage, but the whole world. They seem as comfortable in Taipei or Tokyo as they are in Ann Arbor. Having a strong base in the Chinese School community here supports them wherever they are, even as they head off again. I am more than a little jealous of all their opportunities.

Six-year-old Little Brother was devastated when the first of the Big Brothers he idolized graduated from high school and went to college two years ago. Lucky for us, that college happened to be the University of Michigan, so we still have many opportunities to see Big Brother Jeff on campus and around town. Even better, Big Brothers Jeff, David, Charles, Brian, and other Jeff often let Little Brother join them during their Chinese Yo-Yo performances, and all the Asian-American sorority girls ooh and ahhh.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Ann Arbor and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is editor of Asian American Village, lead multicultural contributor for, and a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her website at, her blog at, and she can be reached at