June 10, 2012
By Melanie C. Johnson
Teen Skips WHS Graduation to Attend Essay Contest Ceremony
When the Walnut High School class of 2012 recently graduated, one of its own was not among the sea of pale blue and white caps and gowns on the field at Kenneth Gunn stadium.
Brian Yu, 17, was back East making friends with fellow speechmakers from around the world, but his presence remained on the minds of Principal Jeff Jordan and Yu’s classmates.
“You also have a classmate being recognized in Washington D.C. as we speak right now, for his achievement in an international essay contest,” Jordan said as students cheered. “Congratulations to Brian Yu.”
Yu said although he didn’t get to attend his May 31 graduation, he got to see snatches of it in the videos his friends sent to him from the ceremony. He will treasure his high school memories, but was glad he got the experience of coming together with his peers around the world, he said.
“I met people who were so inspiring that I will carry them with me for the rest of my life,” he said.
The teen’s trip to Washington D.C. and New York was the result of the speech skills he honed while a student at Walnut High. Yu won the school’s BSU speech contest earlier this year. After winning at the local level, his speech was entered in the Gulen Foundation International Contest. More than 1,300 essays from 65 countries were entered in the contest. Thirty students from around the world were picked to make the trip to the East Coast.
Yu’s speech turned essay, which earned the 4th place prize, was about children living in poverty and how they have little chance to get to college, he said.
Yu said he comes from a disadvantaged background and his experiences shaped his essay.
“It taught me to be grateful for the things I do have,” he said. “It has made me more appreciative. I am blessed with what I do have. I just want to give back.”
His trip included a tour of the Capitol and New York City, and a Congressional ceremony. Yu said he enjoyed meeting students from Burkina Faso, Tanzania, and Canada, among other countries. He said one moment stood out when he ended up sitting next to a student from Afghanistan whose father is the vice president. The two listened to each other’s music, Yu said.
“Our countries are at war with each other and his dad is one of the highest officials,” he said, “and here we are sharing music.”
Yu said he sang Billy Joel songs with new friends he made from Canada and said he got a lesson in gratitude from a Nigerian student while traveling from Washington D.C. to New York.
The highways were bumpy and the African student remarked that his country doesn’t even have roads as smooth as the ride between the two cities, Yu said.
“I was so grateful for what we have in the U.S.,” he said.
Now that his high school years are over, Yu said he plans to attend Mt. SAC for a couple of years before transferring. He said hopes to major in communications or English.
Yu started competing in public speaking events in the 9th grade. He said he plans to continue to do what he loves to make a difference.
“It’s kind of my passion,” he said. “I think I have a voice and I believe I have something to say. I believe I can use my voice to do good in the world.”
Brian Yu (right) skipped his graduation ceremony at Walnut High School to attend an award ceremony for an international essay contest.