Barbara Wakefield Award Winner Ye Zhang Pogue's Acceptance Remarks

May 19, 2019

Dean Weil, Ye Pogue, her husband, and Joel Cohen
From left to right: Dean David Weil, Ye Zhang Pogue, her husband, and Joel Cohen, widower of former Heller staff member Barbara Wakefield

I want to thank the Heller community for giving me such a great honor. I enjoyed serving the Heller community, the international student body, and the Asian American community. Five years ago, I chose to come to Heller because I wanted to research mental health policy. I had zero experience in activism or community engagement. Clearly, these years at the Heller School have created a new dimension in me.

This unexpected chapter of my life started in 2017. A proposed bill required Massachusetts state government agencies to collect Asian American's national origin data to address health and economic disparities. I felt this data collection is risky to the immigrant community, particularly in the current political climate. In the next two years, I learned everything about activism on the fly. I wrote letters to legislators, testified at hearings, and strategized with the local Asian community leaders. I was elected to be the spokesperson of the campaign. We stopped the bill in the last legislative cycle, though now it has come back again. Together we found the roots of these bills – Asian national origin checkboxes on the U.S. Census questionnaire. This month, we will file a formal administrative complaint to the Department of Justice to demand they fix the race question.

Ye Zhang Pogue delivering remarks in Zinner Forum
Ye Zhang Pogue delivering her award acceptance remarks in Zinner Forum

Today I stand here smiling. However, some days were painful. Race is a delicate subject. I was praised as a true progressive, but also accused of being a secret right-wing and mob leader. I received insults and defamation from the most unexpected places. I also made mistakes. I was frightened by the amount of anger I possessed.

On this journey, I questioned who I am. I am an Asian. I am Chinese. I am a woman. I have an invisible disability. All these factors definitely shaped my experience; however, I am beyond the combination of all these boxes and labels. What really defines me are my choices, not the things I could not choose. I chose to serve the community, chose to lead the political struggle, and I also chose to fight my own demons, to forgive, and to be a better human being.

I wish every graduating student would start a new fulfilling journey and strive to be the person that you wish to be.