It’s springtime and that means trees are bursting into blossom, lawns are taking on a dark green hue, migratory fowl are returning from southern climes, and the air is exuding a fresh, hopeful scent in this the season of renewal. That also means graduation ceremonies with students across the country taking the aisle walk in cap and gown to receive their diplomas.
Over the past weekend, I attended one such ceremony at a local liberal arts college and marveled at the diverse group of people attending the event. Families and friends, jubilant over their children and grandchildren’s achievement, came armed with flowers and balloons to commence what would surely be a weekend of celebration. This was a crowd that included people from varied ethnic backgrounds, religious faiths, sexual orientations and identities, physical disabilities, and ages. There were babes in arms and great grandmothers with their canes bent over from years of backbreaking work in rice fields. But, one thing was clear. People were there to celebrate this milestone.
Speaking of the graduates, it was clear they were as varied as the throng gathered at the event. They were immigrants themselves (hailing from such far-flung locales as East Africa, West Africa, Southeast Asia, China, Korea, India, Mexico, Central America, Middle East, Canada, Europe) or second and third-generation immigrants born in the United States. They were African-American, they were Native American, and they were White. They had differing sexual orientations and identities. They differed in their religious faith. They were persons with disabilities. And, they were persons who have been in recovery.
Looking at this wide, swath of humanity, I couldn’t help but reflect on the different stories to be told by the students themselves as well as their families and friends – how they came to be here, the challenges they faced, the sacrifices they made, and the contributions they will make in the future.
At the same time, I puzzled over their continued denigration by some of our leaders, unfortunately at the receiving end of blame for what’s wrong with America, simply because they’re perceived as ‘different’. This divides us through fear and hate and fails to help us as a nation or people, only serving to create more division, gridlock, and unsolved problems. Those ‘different’ ones have novel perspectives that make us unique and enhance our ability to solve a wide array of problems which continue to plague our nation and planet. There’s not one American type. We are a varied lot, but, at our best, in agreement to make common cause while guided by our much-venerated Constitution as we continue in this, the great American Experiment.
The Founders knew this well as witnessed by their embrace of the principle, E Pluribus Unum. “Out of many, one.”
R. Mark Frey is a St. Paul, Minnesota attorney who has practiced immigration law exclusively for more than 25 years with an emphasis on political asylum, family and marriage-based immigration, naturalization, removal defense, appeals, H-1B visas, and religious workers.