Kawm Tav Qeb Saab (Graduate College)

Graduation Stoles for Vam Meej Haam & Nam Vam Meej Haam (aka Lee Yaj)

COVID19 has transformed how we celebrate academic accomplishments–moving from an in-person commencement to a virtual celebration. Virtual, yes. But, no less important.

I want to take a moment to celebrate the accomplishments of first-generation Hmong-Americans. Many of you may have shared the same experiences of frustration due to lack of mentors, identity issues due to biculturalism, and loneliness from not being able to share your direct passion with your parents. Despite that, graduation is an important milestone as it commemorates and validates that your perseverance and grit to succeed is stronger than any trial or tribulation you encounter.

I also want to celebrate the strength of our Hmong parents.

Similar to other Hmong families, my parents immigrated to America in the early 1990s–with no possessions or dollars. Through trial, error, and cleverness ( I might add), they raised a family of two boys and two girls.

This year, the last of my parent’s children will have graduated from college. For many graduating first-generation Hmong-Americans, this is a pivotal symbolic moment acknowledging Hmong parents’ plight to America. Had it not been for their inner grit to survive and supportive parenting, we would not have been able to accomplish as much as we have.

So for commencement this year, we are surprising our parents with their own GRADUATION STOLES.

After 30 years in the United States and with no formal education themselves, all of their children have obtained a college education. So in a way, they have also graduated.

We chose green and yellow/gold for the colors of the universities (HSU and CSUS) they entrusted their children to learn from. We choose their titles, “Txiv” (dad) and “Nam” (mom) to represent the most important and influential titles they wear. The year “2020” represents their last child graduating from a four-year college. And of course, the Hmong textile designs, beads, and coins are to pay homage to our Hmong roots. Thus, a symbolic representation of their witty teachings, lectures, and life experiments they’ve done to help shape the lives of their children.

Although this post commemorates the value of higher education (in terms of critical thinking, making educated decisions, and exposure to philosophical theories), it also acknowledges that this is a piece of the puzzle. We still have much to learn from two of the smartest and most humerous individuals: Mr. Vam Meej and Nam Vam Meej Ham.

Plus, if anyone is counting, Hmong parents hold many titles (officially/unofficially): parents, entrepreneurs, farmers, thinkers, creatives, comedians, doctors, pharmacists, herbalists, dentists, acupuncturists, storytellers, philanthropists, community leaders, and college gradutes–the list goes on (am I right?).

I end this post with a paj huam I said to my parents during my 2018 graduation speech:

Muaj lub ntuj thaj li muaj dlaaim av

Muaj nam hlub thaj tau noj tau hnav

Muaj lub ntuj thaj muaj lub hnub, lub hli

Muaj iv hlub, thaj nyob luaj lis ntxhis


Because there is a sky, there is land

Because of a mother’s love, we are properly fed and clothed

Because there is a sky, there is a sun and moon

Because of a father’s love, we are able to remain happy

Thank you to our Hmong parents.

I wish you courage on your journey to your own satori.

Until next time.


*rough Hmong to English translation. Note, these direct translations are interpretive/subjective.


3 thoughts on “Kawm Tav Qeb Saab (Graduate College)

  1. As a hmong first generation college, this really resonates with me. Thank you for having your story and your beautiful poem. This is beautifully written and expressed. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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