“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

In high school, a classmate said that I should not give a speech at graduation because my English was not good enough. That remark left me feeling small and insignificant. Unfortunately, I believed it. On that day, I dimmed my own light for someone else’s ignorance.

I was born in Vietnam and moved to the States when I was nine. I learned English by watching TV, reading grocery catalogs, and interpreting for my parents at doctor visits.

As I grew older, I came to realize that the problem was not my English. It was the ignorance and prejudice of other people. And it is a problem that I will face throughout my life, not just in language but in all aspects of my identity.

There will always be those who try to put out my light, but I refuse to let their ugly remarks define my worth or limit my potential. My imperfect English is a source of strength and resilience. It is a testament to my ability to adapt, learn, and grow, even in the face of tremendous adversity.

When I speak in public, I remember that ignorant remark about my English. However, I also remember the hard work and dedication that have brought me to where I am today. Rather than dimming my own light, I share my story to break down prejudice and empower others who face similar challenges.

I will keep using my light to illuminate others’.

— Vi Mai