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Co-valedictorian | Yimeng "Gretta" Xie 

Yimeng %22Gretta%22 Xie

Co-valedictorian Remarks by Gretta Xie delivered at Baccalaureate on Saturday, May 21, 2022

It’s so much harder to say, “It’s not my fault.”

Because every time I turn in an assignment late, disagree with a teacher, get rejected from plays, musicals, summer schools, and colleges, every night I spend sitting in my bed mourning the work I could’ve gotten done, it feels like my fault.

In some ways, I take pride in feeling guilty. My parents, teachers, schools, have all encouraged it. They say to take blame for your mistakes is to be responsible, that it’s a sign of maturity, a virtue. So I became obsessed with every little mistake, imperfection, or anything I deem to be a failure of mine. Then I started saying “I’m sorry” when other people bump into me, or when my friend leaves her water bottle in her car and we have to walk back down to the parking lot. She would turn and look me dead in the eyes, saying, “Gretta, this is completely my fault; why are you apologizing?” And I wouldn’t have an answer for her. It’s become second nature to apologize.

What apologizing first really does for me is not only that it prevents confrontations and conflicts, but that it gives me an illusion of control. One of the most memorable classes I’ve taken at NMH is ceramics, where I struggled with controlling clay. Unlike color pencils or oil paint for which I know what I’m getting when making a mark, clay is just a blob of squishy material that doesn’t always do what I want it to do. It cracks sometimes when I try to attach pieces, refuses to center on the wheel, and ruins my sweaters. When I do manage to make something out of clay, it then goes into the kiln, where all kinds of things can happen. It may crack, break, stick to the piece next to it, or the glaze may turn out unexpected. And there’s nothing, absolutely nothing, I can do to control the result once I’ve done my part. 

It freaked me out a little, to be honest. I need so much control in my life. It’s the source of my sense of security and stability. Through taking responsibility for all my mistakes from the past and in the future, through apologizing for everything that ever went wrong, I convince myself that if I were perfect, all would be fine, that, somehow, if I could just work hard enough, be good enough, smart enough, strong enough, I could fix everything. Since I can’t be free until I am free from the system of oppression I live in, I ought to change the system — change the world. The woman chained to the wall and abused by her legal husband in my home country is my responsibility, so is my roommate who dreams of walking through the most racist district in California like she belongs. In order to save myself I ought to save every person like me and unlike me, the less privileged, the vulnerable.

Over my two years at NMH, I’ve probably walked up the road from the RAC to my dorm more times while sobbing than not. The guilt and shame I bury myself under is a constant weight that blurs out the immediate causes for tears. What I wasn’t ready to do two years ago that I think I am ready to do now is to accept the fact that I can’t take responsibility for the wrong doings of an entire system, for it’s not me that wronged the people, in the same way I can’t be responsible for my parents’ emotions, for they are not my own.