Serena Pang was selected as this year's student speaker for the Celebration of Excellence.
Pang has completed two majors: the first in the neuroscience track of psychology, and the second in "International Neuromarketing and Public Relations" which she designed herself through the Bachelor's Degree with Individual Concentration program.
In her time at UMass, Pang has served as a photographer, volunteered with cultural organizations on and off campus, and worked with individuals with intellectual developmental disabilities. In Professor Spencer's Cognition Action Lab, she has researched how midday naps affect consumer decision-making in young adults.
Here is the transcript of her talk:
Good afternoon, students, parents, families, staff and faculty! Thank you to everyone who has come from near and far to attend this year’s Celebration of Excellence!
We are all here today to celebrate the achievements that the UMass Commonwealth Honors College class of 2016 has made. As honors students, we strive to create, innovate and discover. Throughout all of our undergraduate careers, our class has been working hard to shape ourselves into the people we are today.
I cannot believe how far we have come. For me, the past four years have flown by so quickly, that I am surprised the time has come when I can stand at this podium. I can still remember move-in day during my first year here at UMass, when I was a freshman who was both nervous and excited with anticipation to start my undergraduate career. Over the past four years, I have met so many people that I am very fortunate who I call my friends and colleagues, have had the privilege to work with such dedicated staff and faculty, and have had many opportunities within UMass to explore my interests and discover my true passions.
But I digress. Today we are here to celebrate the excellence that is the class of 2016.
There are those who say that people are born with excellence and talent, and there are those who believe that excellence is crafted. I believe that excellence is something that is defined and honed with time, dedication and determination.
When I was a child, my mother used to tell me an ancient Chinese proverb, “one inch of time, one inch of gold—that inch of gold cannot purchase that inch of time.” I clearly remember the day when my mother took out a piece of paper and wrote the proverb on it and stuck it onto the kitchen wall. This proverb has resonated with me throughout my life, that piece of paper is still on the wall in my kitchen. And it is one hundred percent true—money cannot buy time. Time is something precious for us to hold, and if we waste it, it slips away from our grasp. This in conjunction with my third grade teacher, Mrs. Anderson, and her giant banner of “inch by inch, life’s a cinch; yard by yard, life is hard”, have been the two adages that continue to keep me motivated to learn new things and be eager to enjoy life.
It is time that helps us grow physically, mentally and emotionally. With time, we become more complex, we develop our own virtues and morals to live by, we derive enjoyment in different ways—and we discover who we really are. This is something that we tackle in small increments. This makes time priceless, as we can never redo or rewind. Over the course of our undergraduate careers, we have worked inch by inch in finding our scholastic passions and determining who we are and what we want to be. This, for me, is the true essence of excellence.
Excellence is difficult to visualize. There have been times during university where many of us questioned what we wanted to do with our lives. I still think that way sometimes. But what keeps me going is this: any time I feel uncertain about what I am doing and whether I am doing my best, I close my eyes. I close my eyes and I say to myself—this is me now. I know life is difficult with classes, lab, internships and work, and there are many obstacles in our paths. How can we overcome these obstacles? Will these help us grow as people? Are we pursuing interests that we want to continue in the future? How do we picture that future?
The answers to all of these questions may lead to more questions. But success and excellence are never easy to achieve. Envisioning achievement as an intellectual puzzle to solve makes it more challenging and worthwhile in the end. Our friends, professors and mentors at UMass have helped us find answers to these questions, and helped make us who we are today.
Excellence is not something that can be ascertained by numbers or letter grades. Throughout my work with young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, I have learned that excellence is our self-awareness of our own abilities. These insights, garnered over time, whether independently or with the guidance of others around us, help shape our personal definition of excellence. For some, it may be in the arts and humanities, for others it may be in research, business or in further education—but most importantly, excellence is something that begins from within.
To the class of 2016, it has been a very long and rough journey to get to where we are now. We have had our shares of ups and downs, successes and failures. But what I hope for everyone most is to be able to learn positive lessons from all of this and allow it to help you grow.
Aristotle once said “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Continue to practice excellence throughout your lives, whether at work, school or at home. Excellence is habitual and achieved over time—it is a virtue that remains continuous throughout our lives, and it is up to us to strive for excellence in whatever we are doing and wherever we may be.
I hope that even after graduation, we all work hard to consistently achieve excellence, but also to enjoy life. We should reflect on the past, live in the present and work towards the future. Even though this may be the end of our undergraduate careers, we should continue to keep growing, developing and improving. I wish everyone the best of luck in all of their pursuits, and to stay positive in striving for success! Congratulations to everyone—we have worked hard to be where we are now, and it is finally time to recognize all of our achievements, to thank our families and those who got us here, and to celebrate!