Delivered in 2018 in the cafeteria of West Windsor Plainsboro High School South
I cannot believe I am here. I kind of feel like saying this goes out to all the kids who made fun of me in high school and then dropping the mic.
But I won’t. But if you asked me when I graduated from this school if I would ever have seen this day, I would have told you you were crazy. I never won most likely to succeed or best dressed. I was never one half of the best couple. I was not valedictorian and my class rank, which we had back then – despite a LOT of controversy, did not put me in the top 10% of the class.
More truth telling. I did not want to be in this school. My parents moved us here in 1988 after a stint in Puerto Rico. This was a pre-hurricane Maria Puerto Rico and it was beautiful. Warm. Beaches. Lots of friends. We ended up in West Windsor for two reasons – one, the train to NYC. Two, the schools.
This is familiar to many of you, I am sure. But I think during nights like this when alumni like me get to look back on what worked, it’s helpful to hear what worked about their education. For me, there are three things that I am especially grateful for.
One the teachers. Some of mine who changed my life. My journalism Mrs Blader is at the top of the list. I invited her tonight and she couldn’t be here but I thank her from afar for seeing something in me that I did not see in myself. Others: Mr. Heim. Mr. Stuart. Mr. Rudnick. Mr. Gilpin. Ms. Koricki. Señor Gil. And when Mr. Welsh died in 2010, I lined up with hundreds of his former students to say goodbye and thanks, as well.
What also works about West Windsor schools is the actual education and curriculum. It exposes, it challenges, it relates the past to the present. I was so prepared for college and real life because the delivery of an education here is so thorough. The diploma really means something.
The third thing — what I think West Windsor Plainsboro offered that fewer places in America have and tolerate is difference of opinion. Our classes were diverse in every way and during election years, especially, it would get very heated. But it was civil and respectful. This ability, learned in the classrooms and hallways and lunch tables around us, not just to see two sides of a story but the many many sides guides my work as a journalist every day. I am so incredibly grateful that the seeds for this – a fundamental part of our covenant with democracy – were sown for me in West Windsor Plainsboro schools.
What I had coming out of this school were people who believed in me. Some of them are here today and I asked them for various reasons that I think make me who I am.
There’s the auntie who brought me home from the hospital, a sign of the close-knit community I was raised in even though we are not related. Every time I got a new job or award, she calls me – often she calls my parents too because she sees it in India Abroad or one of our community newsletters first.
There’s my elder brother, who WAS all the things I was not – top 10%, Ivy-League educated, gave a speech at graduation. He paved a path.
There’s my best friend, Angela, who some of you know and is an entrepreneur today. We met when we were 12 and she is the epitome of that Spanish phrase – Digame con quien andas y digo quien tu eres. Tell me who you are and I tell you who you walk with. I thank god for friends like her who influenced me at such a young age to be good, ambitious, stay idealistic. We were kind of nerdy and that was okay.
And there’s my husband who has never complained when I come home late from work and also forces me out of my comfort zone all the time with his art and excursions. And there are my kids, Naya and Riya, who also don’t complain too much. I think they deserve better and so they serve as a motivation that the work is never done and as Ted Kennedy said – the dream should never die.
My dreams, of course, began with those of my parents, who came to this country in 1971 and 1974. I thank them profusely for laying the foundation for this blessed life and career I have. I thank my mother who kept me out of the kitchen and said things while I was growing up like, “My daughter cannot cook but she reads lots of books.” Eventually, I would go on to write them, too.
My father’s first job was pushing a file cart in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. From my office at CNN, every afternoon, a man pushes a cart past my office. I see him through the window and think of where we came from and how life turns out and if his kids know what is possible. I wonder if they are in good schools. Because I know that can make all the difference.