I was asked by Dragon’s friend, AJ Magsirili, to speak at his Eagle Scout Ceremony. I was incredibly touched by this gesture, and by the honor of speaking at this momentous ceremony. Here is the speech I gave today, which I worked on with AJ.
Hello, my name is Grace Kim. I’m a friend of AJ’s family. My family and I have lived here in Tustin for the last 16 years. Tustin is where we’ve raised our family, where I’ve had my career in marketing, and from where we now run our nonprofit, the Dragon Kim Foundation, which is dedicated to helping students find and explore their passions.
AJ and my son, Dragon, met when they were seven, when our families first met at Legoland. AJ and Dragon went to Peters Canyon Elementary School together, and then Pioneer Middle School. I’ve watched AJ grow up into the young man we see today, and was flattered and honored when he asked me to speak at his Eagle Scout Ceremony. When I asked AJ for guidance on what he would like to me to speak about, humble person that he is, AJ asked me to speak about Dragon.
Our son Dragon was killed in a camping accident in 2015, when he was 14, during our family’s annual camping trip to Yosemite. When Dragon was killed, our world completely fell apart. AJ and his parents were part of the community that have helped keep us alive.
As you know, this ceremony is to honor young men who have a heart for making their world a better place. As I understand it, the mission of the Boy Scouts is to teach character, citizenship, and personal fitness by doing. To address those concepts, I wanted to share with you something about AJ and something about Dragon.
At Dragon’s funeral, we invited his friends to come up and speak. AJ was one of the boys at the funeral. I think AJ had a little speech planned, but when he got up to the podium, something completely different came out of his mouth. He told a story about a time when he got mad at Dragon.
The background is that AJ had gotten his backpack stolen earlier that year, 7th grade. Then one day that spring, it started raining at break. At the end of break, AJ remembered that he had left his backpack on the other side of campus, but when he got there, he couldn’t find it. He looked all over school for his backpack, getting more and more worried that it had gotten stolen again. A couple hours later, Dragon bumped into him. “Here AJ,” Dragon said, thrusting something into AJ’s hands, “Here is your backpack!”
AJ said that at first, he got really mad at Dragon, because he thought Dragon was playing a prank on him, and was being a jerk, hiding his backpack. It turns out that Dragon had seen it lying out in the rain, and brought it inside, and had been looking for AJ so that he could give him back his backpack. But AJ said, he couldn’t imagine that someone would do something nice like that and so, assumed Dragon had deliberately hidden his backpack. I guess AJ never had the chance to thank Dragon for that, and so at the funeral, with tears in his eyes, AJ wanted to take the opportunity to finally thank him, and to apologize for getting mad at him. I think this story shows a couple things.
I have always told Dragon that Character is doing what is right, even when no one is looking. “It’s easy to do what’s right,” I had told him, “when it’s public and people are watching. It’s much, much harder to do what’s right when it’s private, when you know you can get away with something because no one watching you at that time.” AJ wanted to tell this story at Dragon’s funeral to show what a good friend Dragon was. And he was. Of all the things I am proud of Dragon for, I am most proud of Dragon’s kindness, and that he was a good friend. But I am also proud of AJ, because no one knew this story. No one knew that he had done anything wrong here. And he felt the need to share this story publicly and to thank Dragon. I know goodness when I see it, and I believe I speak for all of us when I say I see it in AJ.
AJ is currently a senior at Beckman High School. He has been recognized as a Scholar Athlete, a recipient of the Principal’s Exemplary Honor Roll, and a Life Member of the California Scholastic Federation. He has been a member of Beckman’s Chamber Orchestra, Debate Team, and Volleyball Team. AJ used his Scout leadership skills as a Link Cru Student Mentor and as a Founder of Beckman’s first Filipino Club. He has served the community volunteering with the Dragon Kim Foundation, the Second Harvest Food Bank, and the #HasthtagLunchBagOC movement which feeds the less fortunate of Orange County. AJ plans to attend UC Berkeley in the fall to continue his intellectual growth and developing career interests. AJ’s Eagle Scout Badge of Honor is the end result of 12 years of AJ’s commitment to the scouts and its values. It’s the public recognition of the good character, citizenship, and physical fitness of this upstanding young man, and I am honored to be part of this ceremony celebrating him today.
One last thing. AJ also asked me to speak about the concept of embracing life. This is not an easy task for a mother who has lost her son. None of you students out there totally get this, because you are not yet parents, and you don’t quite understand the all-consuming love we parents have for you, our children. But all you moms and dads out there understand what I mean. Losing my son was worse than losing my own life, and it has been a long hard road for me to welcome the concept of embracing life again. I am not going to lie… Life is hard and it can be downright unfair. But even in the wake of hardship and tragedy, life can still be beautiful. As a photographer, I still see beauty in this world. And as a founder of the Dragon Kim Foundation, I find meaning in life now by helping others. And I know that, had Dragon been here today, like AJ, as a senior in high school on the brink of adulthood, ready to take a step into his next exciting chapter, he would have wanted all of us to embrace life. Let me end by reading a poem Dragon wrote, that we found on his phone after he passed:
By Dragon Kim
Life is a gift, so live it to the fullest
Grow happy and gaily, for you only have one shot.
Life is what you make it, so make it amazing,
Don’t live in the shadows of the world.
Life is a game, so play to your heart’s content,
Don’t let anything hold you back.
Life is limitless, so shoot pass the stars,
Don’t let the weight of the world bring you down.
Life is fleeting, so don’t chase it,
Run with it.
Life is beautiful, so open your eyes,
Let the light from the world shine in your face.
Life is gone, but don’t cry,
For you were just visiting.
Thank you, and congratulations AJ. We are so proud of you.