Please join me in welcoming Joanne Chang. Good morning. Thank you Dean Upneja for that really kind
introduction. Thank you BU School of Hospitality for having
me here today. I am incredibly honored to be celebrating
this special day with all of you. Graduates, I join your friends and family
and this warm collective of people in congratulating you on your achievement. In preparation for today I was fortunate to
have had lunch with Dean Upneja and one of your professors, Leora Lanz, a couple of months
ago at Meyers + Chang. I was eager to learn more about your four
years here at BU. I wanted to know what jobs you were preparing
for, and what classes you were most excited about. I wanted to learn about you, and who you are. And, as always, I wanted to eat Chinese food. The three of us reminisced about our own respective
college experiences, and our own graduation ceremonies. In talking we realized that none of us could
remember our own commencement speaker. Not one of us. And that’s okay because for one that fact
helped me relax about today. It also made it clear to me that today is
all about you and your accomplishments, and not this speech. In five, or 10, or 20 years you won’t remember
me at all, but today what’s important is that you remember how proud we all are of you and
how excited we are to be part of your celebration. My charge this morning is to share some of
the lessons I’ve learned in the last 25 years as a pastry chef and restaurateur. Bring a little wisdom to the party, right? The hard part is to do that without boring
you to tears. So, in that spirit I’m going to keep this
short and sweet. I’m going to frame this as I would most things
I do, as it relates to food. Pretty much every lesson I’ve learned centers
around food somehow, so it seems appropriate this morning to bring all of these together
in one celebratory meal. Call this my recipe for success, so to speak. So let’s start putting some stuff on the table. The first dish, fruit kabobs. And by fruit kabobs, I mean listening. I think listening is the most important of
all senses. Of course, I’m not telling you anything that
you haven’t already heard before. You know that listening is important. You know it’s important to listen to your
family, to your teachers, to your significant others. Yes, listening is key to learning, growth,
community, and of course love. But I’m talking about listening to your inner
voice. I want you to listen to that voice inside
of you that led you to hospitality, and that is telling you who you are. On paper I was not supposed to be a pastry
chef. I come from a very traditional Taiwanese family. My mom and dad emigrated here, got their advance
degrees, worked really hard, and sent me and my brother to good schools. I studied math and economics at Harvard, I
graduated and went straight to work as a management consultant, and my path was supposed to be
relatively straight. A few years of this and that, and maybe law
school or business school. But something took me out of math and consulting,
and my parents and tradition, and led me to hospitality. That something was listening to the voice
inside my self. That voice told me that like you I love connecting
with people and trying to make them happy. It was quiet, but persistent over the years. When I was in third grade I had a teacher
I adored, Mrs. Davis. I wanted to do something for her, so I decided
I would make her fruit kabobs. I scrounged together my nickels and dimes,
walked across the park, across the neighborhood to the local 7-Eleven. I bought an apple, an orange, and a banana. I cut them up into small tiny pieces, and
impaled them with toothpicks, and then I stuffed them in a baggy. The next day I brought the fruit kabobs to
Mrs. Davis. With a huge smile on my face. I’ll never forget how happy she was. I am certain that as soon as my back was turned
those brown fruit kabobs went into the trash. Think about a banana and an apple marinating
with orange in a baggy at room temperature. But I knew nothing about that. Only that I felt joy and love and happiness,
and I was certain she felt the same. Fast forward many years later when I was studying
math in college, and I was going to be a mathematician. Except, that the work was all over my head. To alleviate my stress I baked chocolate chip
cookies and brought them to the study sessions. You can imagine that I was pretty popular
even though I had no clue what was going on. My brilliant friends loved my cookies, and
in turn they helped me understand fermat’s theorem. It was a win-win, I was part of the team,
and I became known as the chocolate cookie girl. I graduated. Somebody spoke at my graduation. No clue who. I moved on to work for a high powered consulting
firm and traveled across the country. But still, yep, I was baking cookies. I was baking and cooking, baking and cooking. Hosting friends every weekend as I tested
recipes. All I thought about was food. How much I loved to make it, eat it, prepare
it, and most of all share it. These are few examples. There were hundreds of them. After a few years in consulting I finally
listened to that voice inside. I called home, I broke the news to my parents,
I told my bosses. I was going to be me and go work in a professional
kitchen. I knew what was going to make me happy. You all have chosen an awesome industry. You’re about to enter the world with some
of the best people. You’ve already met some of them here in your
time here. You’re going to meet so many more. Each of you has a fruit kabob story, or a
hundred. Listen to what the stories are telling you. You’ve learned what’s important in this world. Making connection with those around you. Listen to the “why” chose hospitality, and
make it mean something to you. The world out there is really, really, noisy. Don’t ever stop listening to yourself. Okay, so let’s throw another dish on the table. How about peaches? And by peaches I mean patience. Let me explain. When I was a kid my dad changed jobs a lot. We moved around from city to city, house to
house. At one point when I was young we looked at
a house that had a beautiful backyard with tons of peach trees. I didn’t care about the house, but man did
I want those peaches. I love peaches. My dad tried to convince me that we could
just plant peaches wherever we ended up living, and I thought to myself, ‘that’s not the same.’ We ended up in a small house with a tiny little
spare backyard. The first day after we moved in my dad took
me to a nursery. We bought a peach sapling, and we planted
that baby tree in our backyard. To this day I marvel at the love and wisdom
in that gesture. I didn’t get what I wanted. I wanted peaches. But what I got was one of the best lessons
of my life. I watered that tree. I trimmed that tree. I loved that tree. For two and a half years. And then we moved again. I never got a peach from that tree. Not one. But I got something better. I learned patience. I learned to watch, and wait, and deal with
disappointment. I watched that peach tree get bigger and bigger,
and I learned about believing in my future, setting goals, waiting, waiting, and waiting. I learned that I could have the patience,
even as a child, of an adult. I learned goal-setting. If you want a peach tree you’ve got to get
on your knees, dig a hole, plant a seed, water it, fertilize it, and take care of it. And be patient. Make your mark. Don’t be afraid to start. Plant that peach tree. The next dish on the menu, cereal. I’ll explain. A bowl of cereal to me signifies taking action. It’s a reminder to me not to be fearful to
take risks. Have you all seen the tv series Cosmos? You may not have seen it, but I’m guessing
possibly your parents have seen it. It aired in the early 80’s with Carl Sagan,
and explored the universe. One of the episodes starts off with a guy
sitting in his kitchen at breakfast eating a big bowl of cereal. The camera pans away, and you see the apartment
building. It pans away again, and you see the island
of Manhattan. It keeps panning away until you see the United
States, and then the Earth, and on, and on, and on. And finally there’s just a little blue dot. Whatever that guy was thinking about as he’s
eating his cereal, you realize that he’s just a blue dot in this universe. We’re all just a little bitty speck. Now that’s not to make you or me feel unimportant
or insignificant. But instead, it’s to put things into perspective. I think of this every single time I’m afraid
to make a move. I think of this every time I think, ‘I can’t
do this. I don’t have the skills, or the ability, or
the smarts.’ I remind myself that on the other side of
the Earth right now somebody is struggling with same insecurities that I am. A hundred years ago somebody was facing the
same challenges that I am now. A hundred years from now somebody is going
to be dealing with the same issues. All of my angst, and frustration, and fear. They’re just a blip. They’re holding me back from believing in
myself and taking action. I urge you to have blue dot perspective. Step outside of yourself, and the things that
are chipping away at your confidence. A different point of view, a little blue dot,
might help you see that often what is holding you back is you. A last dish in this menu of some sort of success
for your post-college life, dumplings. I’m going to share a story about dumplings
in hopes of convincing you of a basic truth in this world. And that is, we’re all just trying to figure
it out. It’s important to learn to give yourself a
break and laugh at yourself. Know that the narrative that you see others
presenting isn’t always what’s really going on, so don’t judge yourself by that. How many of you this morning were on Instagram
or Snapchat? And how many posts did you glance at that
made you think, ‘Man, that person’s got it going on.’ It can be really easy to see what everyone
around you is doing, and being, and think, ‘I can never get there.’ But honestly everyone of us is just trying
to figure out as we go. My first year at Harvard, a total disaster. I changed my major five times. I cried pretty much every day. My second year, I changed it twice more. I struggled. A lot. When I opened Flour, my entire first year, I
wanted to sell it. I’m pretty sure I cried every day of that
as well. I had opened the bakery of my dreams, and
yet the reality was every single day was a struggle. Today we have eight Flours, a restaurant. I have people ask me all the time, ‘What’s
the plan?’ I have no idea. I have a twenty year old company, and no plan. Go figure. I share these things with you to persuade
you that no life lived is exactly as you think. But back to dumplings. When we opened Meyers + Chang I wanted to
put my mom’s pork and chai dumplings on the menu. The one’s I always imagined her learning from
my grandmother as a small child in Taiwan. When I was a little kid we made them pretty
much every week. So, I called her up and asked for the recipe,
jotted it down. I went into my new restaurant kitchen, and
taught all my line cooks, and off we went. Christopher, my husband and business partner,
could not wait to put this family recipe on our menu. Our opening chef practically wept the first
time she ate one. By the time we launched the restaurant they
had taken on a life of their own. The media loved them, mama Chang’s dumplings
are our most popular dish and if you come to the restaurant the chances are you are
going to eat her dumplings. So a few years ago I finally asked mom, ‘what’s
the story behind the dumplings?’ I imagined a nostalgic trip down memory lane
with her and her mom, and maybe her grandmother. Mom at grandma’s elbow learning old Taiwanese
secrets. ‘Oh that recipe,’ she said. ‘I got that from a Good Housekeeping magazine
when I first emigrated here.’ I couldn’t believe it. The was definitely one narrative that did
not match reality. You might think that now that you graduated
you’re supposed to have some idea of what life is all about. I’m telling you that it’s okay if you don’t. You might look at someone who seems to be
all put together, and i’m telling you that chances are they’re just trying to piece it
together like you and me. I thought my restaurant was founded on a family
heirloom recipe. Until I learned that it wasn’t. You have to laugh. I have to laugh. We all have to be able to laugh at ourselves. Fruit kabobs, peaches, cereal, dumplings. Listen for who you really are. Be patient, and wait for what really matters. Take action and don’t hold back. Don’t compare yourself to the narratives you
see others presenting. And laugh at yourself regularly. Today you graduate from college, but the rest
of your life will continue to be filled with lessons and challenges and changes. And listening to rambling speeches. You leave BU with four wonderful years behind
you, and a community of supporters to lean on. Use the experiences and skills, and friends
you’ve made here, to help support and guide you, and go out and achieve your dreams. I can’t wait, we can’t wait, to see what you
all accomplish. Good luck, congratulations.