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Ann’s keynote speech, delivered in March, 2019 at the 13th Annual Monterey County High School Japanese Speech Contest

As students of Japanese, you all know that kanji can be tricky. There are multiple readings, and multiple meanings of individual kanji. And different kanji with different meanings can be read the same way. Like “wa”. It can mean peace and harmony, or with a different kanji, ring….or as  Ariana Grande discovered too late...a type of barbecue grill.

Sometimes a concept like “wa” can be written with different kanji, but apply to the same thing, and sometimes it’s just written in hiragana. Take “wasshoi”, for example, which is what people shout out together as they carry a heavy portable shrine through the streets in festivals throughout Japan. The shrine is too heavy to be carried by one person, and even a group of people can’t carry it without a united, coordinated effort. “Wasshoi” means “to carry harmony, peace, and unity”. So “wa” also represents connections, bonds, and unity, a type of figurative ring. Peter and I started the Wasshoi Foundation last year, and we’ll get to that in a moment, but first I want to introduce you to someone with whom you, your teachers, and many in this community, share “wa”.

She is the woman in this picture, and her name is Tei Yajima Dacus. She also happens to be my mom, and she has something in common with all of you. When she was young, she, too, had a passion to learn another culture and language, and she studied hard, and took advantage of opportunities to demonstrate her skills, such as you are at this speech contest. Along the way, she was encouraged and helped by many, without whose support she could not have come all the way from Japan to America to study in 1951. She eventually settled in the Salinas Valley, where after a long career as an elementary school teacher, she started the first high school Japanese language class in Monterey County, one of only a handful at that time in the entire state.  

From that one class at Alisal High School 33 years ago, the Japanese program in Monterey County grew to include three more public high schools in Salinas, with one more starting at the new school this coming fall, and a brand new program that began this year at Monterey High. Your teachers are outstanding, and the program is one that is known throughout the US as exemplary. After graduation, when you move on to continue Japanese studies somewhere else, be sure to slip into the conversation with your teachers that you took Japanese in Salinas, then wait for the reaction. You will find that there won’t be a Japanese teacher anywhere who hasn’t heard of Salinas. The thing about “wa” is that there’s a beginning, but there’s no end. It’s just a continuous circle of harmony and good mojo. You are part of the “wa”, your teachers are part of the “wa”, I am, Tei is, we all are. The future connections that you will continue to make as a result of your Japanese journey will become part of it as well.

One life-changing, door opening part of language and culture learning is actually visiting that country. There’s nothing like it. As teachers who traveled to Japan and France with students many times, Peter and I both understand the value of that experience. But we also know that it can be financially challenging and inaccessible to many students. So when we retired, we knew that we wanted to do something to help students get to Japan. We can’t literally carry you on our shoulders like a portable shrine, but we can help provide a little “wasshoi” by offering this scholarship to qualifying students.