Jenny Lau gave a speech representing MPP students at the 2023 UEP commencement. This post is the second in a series of four UEP’s 2023 commencement speeches. The first was Eli Tavares‘ speech representing MA and MS UEP students. Next will be Chelsea Spaman representing MS Sustainability students, and Eugenia Gibbins, the alumna keynote.
Intro by Penn Loh:
Next up is a representative of our mid-career MPP program, Jenny Lau. Jenny is what’s known as a double Jumbo, having now gotten her BA and Masters at Tufts. For the dozen+ years between those degrees, Jenny worked in various roles as a social equity practitioner. She was an organizer for CPA in Chinatown. Jenny advanced women in politics with the Barbara Lee Family Foundation/Political Office and the Office of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. And just before coming back to school, she was Director of Programs and Outreach at the Harvard Law School Center for Labor and a Just Economy. She is one of five Neighborhood Fellows in this year’s MPP cohort. “A UEP gem and the embodiment of UEP’s commitment to bridge theory and practice.”
Begin Jenny’s speech:
“Greetings! 大家好! My name is Jenny Lau 劉健儀 and I’ve had the great privilege of pursuing my Master of Public Policy this year as a Neighborhood Fellow.
Unlike most of my MPP colleagues, I chose to do the program full-time as a way to give myself a personal sabbatical. I was returning to school 12 years after finishing my undergraduate degree here at Tufts. During those years, I worked in the Greater Boston area – doing grassroots organizing with monolingual Chinese immigrants in Chinatown, helping to elect women to federal office, and advancing federal labor law reform. I was ready for a space to take pause, reflect, and think about where I wanted to go next – because how can I go forward if I don’t know where I come from. What drew me to the MPP program was its commitment to supporting local leaders of color in their existing work, and seeing their leadership as valuable and an integral part of building a community of practical visionaries.
It was a big step for me to carve out this time for myself and for my own learning. Growing up in a working poor, immigrant household, there was little room to not work and to focus on the self. Before the program started, I questioned whether I would be up for the rigor of academia and the long hours of studying and reading that I suspected were required of me. Despite initial doubts, nine months later, I stand here before you with a newfound appreciation for my learning and what it means to study.
It’s astounding to see how much I’ve learned in the last nine months compared to my last twelve years. The learning is not necessarily better, just different – more accelerated and focused than what I thought was possible. It’s been a fun experience getting to nerd out on topics that I never thought I would nerd out to – like the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit. It’s a great honor to have the space and time to deeply examine subjects, think, and apply my knowledge, which has all been refreshing and energizing.
I am grateful to be taught by professors who find joy in students’ learning and who are joyful about the subjects they teach. Jon, your enthusiasm for land use policy is truly infectious. Shomon, thank you for the many ways you build intentionality into your courses. I think a professor is going great lengths when he becomes a stand-up comedian in his Statistics class in order to make the subject lighter for his students. Penn, thank you for (re)introducing us to pluriversal politics and solidarity economies, encouraging us to dream outside of what is expected of us and to see what is already here and beautiful.
I am so grateful to have met very good friends who I didn’t know were missing in my life. You have been huge supports, as co-work buddies and cheerleaders, through the trials and tribulations of life that still happen when one is in school. You’ve become a community of people with whom I can ideate, dream, and discuss policy matters in ways that are generative and where I feel seen. I am grateful for your comradery and I have learned a great deal about myself in the reflections you’ve offered about me, so thank you.
Thank you to my family – both birth and chosen – who have come near and far to celebrate with me – I got to where I am today because of your collective love and support. Special shout out to my partner – thank you for your daily support and for all the times you sat with me at the library while I did work.
To all the graduating students here today: Let’s celebrate this moment and all that we have accomplished, because anything that is worth our time, our minds, and our hearts is worth celebrating. I am proud of me, of all of us, and hope that every Graduate gets to own their accomplishments unapologetically.