Chapel Talk: Fear, Courage, Roots by Jason Park

Science teacher Jason Park spoke to the Peddie community on September 10.

Jason Park
Greetings Peddie falcons!  First, a warm welcome back to the class of 2015.  Sophomores, was it only a year ago that you guys first appeared here on campus, full of enthusiasm and anxiety, brimming with (dare I say) innocence?  I’m just thankful that we got through the entire year without a major catastrophe in one of our chem labs, well except… perhaps that one time I set the science building’s fire alarm off.  Ok…Moving on….To the class of 2014, Not quite up to the front row just yet?  Don’t worry, you will be soon enough.  I, too, am in my third year in this Falcon’s Nest.  And like many of you, I am finally beginning to feel settled in and somewhat confident that I know what I’m doing, well sort of….  And to you, Seniors!  Wow, are you ready?  Ready to take that plunge into the massive flurry of your college apps, your last athletic season, you last Blair week, your last Head’s day, your last AP exams, and, before you know it, your Prom and Graduation?  Well, if not, take a deep, deep breath.   And finally, last but not least, to the class of 2016!  Aren’t they just so cute?  Although I wrote this speech with everyone in mind, it is you, class of 2016, who I really paid particular attention to.  I want to talk briefly to you about three very important ideas to me:   
fear, courage and … roots ….


Moving to Peddie for the first time must be akin, in many ways, to moving to an entirely new country or perhaps moving to college, or in my case, both.  After having spent the better part of a decade attending an international school in Seoul, South Korea, I embarked upon a frightful journey, 10,000 miles away from the familiar comforts of home to a strange Gothic wonderland in North Carolina… what in the world was a “blue devil” supposed to be anyways?  Still, I thought I had this “American” thing down: after all, I had watched enough American television shows (like Friends, MacGyver, Seinfield, The Simpsons…) to know all about what to do in every conceivable situation...right?
I remember the first time I ordered steak: how eager I was, how proud I was that I knew exactly what to do in situations such as these.   I had even done some extra research to figure out what exactly a porterhouse steak was.   When the waitress had asked me, “How would you like your steak prepared, Sir?”  I grinned profusely because I knew EXACTLY how to answer that question.   “Medium well, please!” I responded in a very self-satisfied tone.  

But then came that fatal next question:  “What side orders would you like with that, sir?”  Except that MY waitress didn’t say it like that.  She merely asked, “What sides, Sir?”

“What sides?!?!?…. BOTH!”  I retorted.   I thought to myself, “Why would I want my steak cooked only on one side?”  

Somewhat confused, she replied, “Well, we have five sides that you can choose from, sir.”

“How does a steak have five sides?!?!?!?” I asked.  And then a tremendously awkward moment ensued, followed by a series of perplexed looks, followed by uproarious laughter from EVERYONE at the table.

Suffice it to say, it was a rough first week at school.   I mean….Who knew that you weren’t supposed to hail down taxi cabs that were dropping off kids at the bus stop?  Or that I would constantly get bombarded with that same question over and over again….”You’re from Korea? Wow, you speak English really well!”   And after like the TENth time of hearing that same comment, I began to respond sarcastically with “You know what?  You speak English well too!!!”

When I asked one of my Caucasian freshman hall mates whether they wanted to attend an “Asian Student Association” meeting with me, I was shocked when they replied, “Why would I ever want to do that!?!??”            You see…Because I came from an international high school mostly comprised of Asian Americans, I was used to being in the majority.  Every student body president, homecoming queen and team captain I could remember had been Asian.  Suddenly, my bubble was beginning to burst, and it began to seep in that not everybody wanted to be like me.    In fact, I began to think that most mainstream Americans actually saw me as kind of… well, strange.

They weren’t AT ALL intrigued as to HOW I was different.  They didn’t ask me a whole slew of questions about WHERE I came from or WHAT I believed.  Instead, they seemed to gravitate towards those who shared their SAME skin color, their SAME music, their SAME inside jokes and their SAME beliefs.  This is not at all a new or shocking observation, but I guess I had always taken it for granted, because I had never really before been the “odd man out.”


And I am not talking about the kind of courage that originates from pride, or a strong sense of self or even a reckless abandon.  I am talking about a courage that emerges like a piercing light from a dark place.

Albeit humorous in retrospect, my initial college experience was pretty dark.   I felt like a foreigner who really ought to go back to where I came from.  Did I really belong here?  Would I ever find my niche in this place?  I know that, for many of you, there is or was a real fear in coming to Peddie for the first time.  I don’t think Sarah Hogoboom is alone when she candidly confessed having shed tears upon her arrival here to Peddie as a freshman. 

And I am not going to lie.  When I ventured out on my own, I did go through my own period of “adjustment.”  Most days, I would hang my head and sullenly walk to and from my classes.  One day, my Resident Advisor even asked me if I was O.K.   As I did on many occasions, I silently shrugged my shoulders, went to my room and closed the door…  

So what changed?

One of the reasons why I loved Duke University THEN and why I LOVE Peddie NOW is that both Duke and Peddie are chock-full with examples of hearts full of courage. 

Any coward can make a crowd laugh by pointing out and ridiculing differences.
A courageous person can make someone from an entirely different background laugh with them.

Any coward can easily sit in the dining hall with people that are already their friends.
A courageous person will often sit with someone new so as to make a new friend.

Any coward might easily ignore those around them who are hurting.
A courageous person will email a teacher early one morning out of concern for a fellow international student who seems to be having a hard time adjusting to Peddie.  By the way, thanks for the email, Abi Quinlin.

And do you know what the coolest thing about courage is? It’s contagious.

But where does real courage come from?   Some think that if you could just stand above others, higher than others, monetarily, politically or otherwise, you would feel uninhibited to do what you please.   After all, who could or would challenge you?  It’s an interesting notion, but I would have to respectfully disagree.  


I believe real courage comes from having deep roots, a strong sense of self, an unwavering conviction of values.  However, it’s not easy to have real courage, not in our pluralistic and politically correct world.   We are so afraid of offending one another, or worse yet, being offended that our day-to-day conversations remain incredibly superficial.

Don’t get me wrong: small talk is a great way to break the ice.  Yet, if all you ever talk about is only on the surface, how deep can your friendship really become?

For instance, how many of you knew, until I just mentioned it now, that I am indeed deeply religious and that my faith in Christ is a central part of my life?  It’s a shame that I felt I had to wait until I was in chapel to share a part of my life that is important to me.  I guess I always rationalized that perhaps broadcasting your belief in God is not the best way to make friends...but instead, it could land you in the presence of, maybe not so much enemies, but quite possibly a great deal of criticism, ridicule and condescension.

Doesn’t it feel sometimes almost safer when your conversations, your thoughts, your values are centered on the immediate, the urgent, the fleeting?

This summer, unexpectedly in an SAT boot camp of all places, I had one of the most unsafe, honest and rewarding 20 minute conversations I ever have had and it was with a devout, Muslim teenager whose parents had immigrated here from Afghanistan.   Aseelah challenged my presuppositions, but still showed genuine interest and respect for my core values, and she talked openly about her struggles in American culture.     

I left that conversation so enriched, feeling so refreshed by such a brief but authentic conversation.  There was indeed a mutual respect there for the spiritual dimensions of each other’s lives, and a genuine desire to hear more about one another’s perspective on life in general.

What I am advocating here is not necessarily organized religion, although I do see tremendous value in spiritual discourse amongst our student body.   Rather, what I am proposing is that we, as individuals find deeper roots in the moral fabric of our respective cultures, political outlooks, religious paradigms and other similar value systems.  In a word, if it is important to you, I would love to hear about it, and moreover, I respectnoadmire, that there are indeed those things that are close to your heart.   

Peddie, let’s have a lot of fun this year learning and competing on the field.  Moreover, let’s laugh and enjoy the fellowship of good times with friendly people.  But, Peddie, more than all of this, let us all be a people of substance, with deep convictions and a clear moral compass.  And let us have the courage to overcome our fears, both real and imagined, to have a real discussion every once in a while about some real issues that are close to our hearts.

I’m ready to talk. Are you?

A La Viva