by Duncan Hieu Minh Dam
September 2, 2009
Good afternoon Wabash, I hope you enjoy the sunshine.
Wow, it has been four years since the first time I put my feet on American soil! Time just goes by, doesn’t it?
However, I still vividly remember that summer of 2005, it is like yesterday to me. After a long flight across the Pacific Ocean and half way across America, I finally got to the place called Indiana, the place where I had been looking forward to for the last three months of the summer. I arrived at the Indy airport that morning with two giant suitcases full of what I don’t even know, and a giant backpack which is normally used by people trying to climb Mount Everest.
Standing in the middle of that baggage claim area, I was confused, nervous and worried about what was going to happen next. Fortunately, through the glimpse of my tired eyes due to the 12 hours jet leg, I saw a man with a red Wabash shirt. He seemed to be looking for someone ... “My life is saved” I thought. That man, who later became my dearest boss, was Mr. David Clapp—the director of the international office and off-campus studies. With a big smile on my face, I ran to him and said, "Hi”. After the usual greeting ritual, we decided to head back to Wabash—my future home for the next lovely four years.
On the way over from Indy, the thing that most struck me was the emptiness of the state. “Oh my” I told myself “there are more fields than houses,” while Mr.Clapp was still explaining what types of crops they grow on those fields. Pretending to care and still managing to have a big smile on my face, I kept saying yes without having a clue what he was talking about.
Roughly an hour later, we got off that giant road which I later learned was called an interstate. We got to the town called Crawfordsville. “We are almost there” I told myself again, “and it should be a suburban area like what it's said on the USNews.”
Then, we passed by the courthouse, the public library, and the sign saying Wabash College. I turned to Mr. Clapp and asked "so where is the downtown?" He looked at me a little confused but still with a smile, and said “we just passed it, did you see the courthouse and the library?” I was shocked “that's it, that’s gotta be the smallest downtown I probably ever seen in my life!” Then a stream of thoughts came to me: What am I gonna do in this town? What did I get myself into?My first impression of what later I called home was not at all good. It was actually pretty bad.
By now, many of you are probably wondering who I am and what I am rambling about up here. Well, I guess I should give you a little introduction of myself. My name is Hieu Minh Dam, which I know most of you won’t be able to pronounce correctly. So I got an easier name for you – Duncan.
I’m from a little country in the Far East Asia called Vietnam. However, I was born in Russia, and I had the privilege to live, among other places, in Australia, Singapore, and attended an international boarding school in London England. Finally, I landed in Crawfordsville, IN for my college career. You might be thinking “why did he decide to come to Wabash? There must be some great reasons behind it.” Not really, the only good reason that I could think of at the time was that Wabash offered me a generous financial aid package, which helped me to get through my college. I didn’t even know Wabash was an all male institution until my deposit was paid to the school. At the time, it sounded like such a horrible decision for me to come to Wabash.
However, you can never predict what is going to happen. For me, Wabash has become my home, and that’s what I want to talk to you about today
My first impression of the corn and the bean fields and especially of the little downtown Crawfordsville seemed to reinforce that Wabash wasn’t a place for me. Although the beauty of the arboretum during the summer time did cheer me up a little bit, I was still quite disappointed. The first week at Wabash, I couldn’t get the idea of living in a small town off of my mind. I kept telling myself during that week “everything will be fine, I can always transfer somewhere else after this year if I want to.” Freshman Saturday came and more people filled those empty rooms around mine. I felt a little better since I was no longer the only resident of the floor.
That freshman Saturday would not be that memorable to me if I had not meet the guys -that’s how I usually refer to my friends - who later became my best friends in college. I remember that afternoon when they were all chilling out in one of the fourth floor Martindale rooms, while a third floor kid, I, wandered around the hall way. I stopped at the door and said “hi” to them, introduced myself, and probably rambled about a million other things. However, none of them seemed to understand what I was talking about. Some of them tried, but it appeared like they all failed. This language barrier can create some obstacles, but it had never stopped us from being friends.
Freshman year for all of us was full of late nights, whether to do homework, eat easy Mac together or to do ridiculous things like many other college kids. I hope our parents who are sitting here do not worry too much, because that’s not all we have done at Wabash. However, I would say it’s definitely part of our Wabash lives. The first year of college went by with sleepless nights spent building the float for homecoming, with practicing the Old Wabash for the Chapel sing, and with the crazy but awesome Monon Bell game at Depauw.
It all flew by so fast that most of us didn’t even notice the end of the year had yet come. We were no longer the freshmen from that Freshman Saturday in August 2005. We passed our first test of being a college student! That freshman year was full of joys and memories, and so dynamics that I even forgot about the initial fears I had on my first day. The idea of transferring was discarded out of my mind without my awareness. Wabash had created something special in me and I don’t think I yet knew what it was.
The summer came, and many of us left school to go home or to many other places. But many of us stayed on campus either working in research or at different offices. One might ask “why would you want to stay in Crawfordsville during your summer? there isn’t anything here to do.” It is true that there were not a lot of things to do here over summer, but I would say it was the great opportunity for me to explore Wabash even better than I could do during the school year. I got to know the staffs in the Dean’s and the business office.
Honestly, I was scared to go there during my freshman year, and I think there were good reasons for that. You only go to the dean’s office when you are called in for academic dishonesty or you are in some really serious troubles. And you only go to the business office when you have to pay your bills or there is a serious debt that prevents you from registering for your classes. However, our office staffs are probably the friendliest people that I’ve ever met in my life. They never care if I just stop at their desks to chat, or even to complain about my classes. Imagine that, you will never get that anywhere else you go.
Over that first summer in America I got to know many other Wabash people, the people working in my lab, the people living on my floor, and even the guy working at the Allen center who played soccer with me everyday. We worked, hung out, and enjoyed the summer together. I once again experienced that special feeling, but for the first time I actually realized what the feeling was. It was the feeling of being home, of being not lonely, of being with family and friends. Wabash had become my home; these people had become part of my life; they were my new family. That summer went by quickly with a lot of joyfulness.
The sophomore year struck us with much more work than we could imagine. We reminded each other how much we complained about work during our freshman year, even though we probably had only half as much work. Sophomore year was also a very emotional year because many of us got to know each other better. We helped each other to get through, from the little troubles with the girl friends who live 30 minutes down south to the major problems dealing with our lives or our future. It made each of us closer to one other and became more like a family. The year went by amazingly fast, since we were all busy with our schoolwork and other plans. It was almost in a blink of the eyes that we became juniors.
That third year of school was very special for the junior class because it was our turn to participate in study abroad programs. Many of us went to England, Spain, Argentina, China, Ghana, Turkey, Germany, and other countries around the world. We had an opportunity to learn new languages, experience new cultures, meet new friends, and to spread the “honored name” of the College. I was one of the lucky ones to have the privilege to go to Shanghai, China during the Fall semester. Without any exaggerations, I would say that was the most phenomenal time during my college career. I had a chance to travel around China, work with the Chinese students, use my broken Chinese to bargain with the fruit sellers at the open market or on the streets. I tried to get as many cultural experiences as I could, and I believed many of us here also did.
You may think studying abroad seemed to bring more joy to me than studying at Wabash. Well, in a way, it did since it was a once in a lifetime opportunity for many of us.
However let me tell you, Wabash was never out of my mind during that trip. I once sang the “Old Wabash” at the front yard of the forbidden kingdom in Beijing, on the top of the Huashan Mountain at the ancient capital of China Xian, and even on the street of one of the busiest cities in the world Shanghai. Sometimes I joked with my best buddy from Wabash who happened to be in the same program with me “you know when we were at Bash, we couldn’t wait to get out of there. But now we are half way across the globe from it, and we won’t stop talking about it. Isn’t it ironic? Isn’t it funny?” Yes, it was very ironic and funny, but it was also telling a fact. Wabash had become such an important part of our lives, that it was not very easy to get it out of our system! Wabash had become something that we would never forget and never wanted to forget!
You have heard me talk a lot about Wabash life, but none about Wabash education. Well, I bet many of you already know a lot about the academic offerings at Wabash. You “kind of” had to because that’s why you sent your kids here. A Wabash education is so good that I don’t feel my words expressive enough to describe it.
But I will give you a quick summary of what Wabash education has done for us. It made many of us staying up until 3 am to finish the chemistry problem sets, spend enormous amounts of time in the art studios working on projects, read 60 pages for the next morning’s C&T class, or write a 20 page single spaced paper during dead week. Not just that, we also took the comprehensive exams over our four-years knowledge of our majors. That one gave me some serious nightmares. [PAUSE]
But is that all Wabash education is? Of course not.
A Wabash education has prepared us so well for jobs, professional schools, graduate schools, and many other great things. Wabash definitely knows what we need to succeed in a professional life, and provide us with the best equipments to obtain it.
There is so much I can say about Wabash, but the time I have here is not sufficient to cover it all. Wabash has done so much for so many of us. It has been my home, OUR home for the last four years, and I know it will always be our home for years to come.
However, before I step down from this podium I have last request. I’m not gonna repeat the same old question “who are we?” again, because we know so well what the answer is. But I want you to take 10 seconds to look at the people sitting next to you. Remember the faces, and if you can, please try to recall a few stories about them. These people are your brothers who have always been with you through multiple ups and downs during your Wabash career. Remember well these faces because in 5 years we will see each other again at our first reunion when we are all successful young adults with our college debt mostly paid. And at that time, we can again recall all the stories of the good old days at our HOME – at Wabash.