Student Speech

Student Commencement Speech by Colby Lenz '99

Somehow in all of my twenty-two years, someone must have forgotten to tell me that forevers finish. Four years of college sure seemed like forever -- and all of a sudden it's time to buckle up and begin again. It feels like eons ago that I was both anxious and excited to meet my first year roommate -- an islander! -- only to find out that Rhode Island is a mainland state. You see in Canada, we call an island an island, but that's a whole different story. Yes, after this first public display of my brilliance, I insisted on wearing my hat backwards for my first ID picture while standing in line trying to convince my father to not rap aloud the good-bye and good-luck tune he had just scribbled on my registration packet envelope. My next step was to hop over to my friendly RA's room to inquire if the orientation events marked mandatory were really mandatory after all.

Yes, it would be a long four years.

We've seen it all -- from first-year writing courses; to all nighters in the snack lab; to the complete make-over of that 70s funk green reserve room; to student involvement and challenging of 'the Wellesley way'; to learning the art of extensions; to building incredible and often unparalleled friendships with faculty, staff and students; to the discomfort of shifting paradigms in our intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and even social worlds; to defying the norm, as women constantly developing strength and realizing our rights to speak, to be respected, to be sometimes shockingly and always strikingly visible, and to affect long-standing and desperate change. We have gained wisdom and experience from those women who have climbed these stairs before us, and energy and impatience from those women we leave behind. I call on us all to act with this very same wisdom and impatience as we move on to our next phase of forever - the wisdom to guide and inform our respective journeys, and the impatience to motivate and articulate our wildest aspirations.

We, women coming from all over -- physically, culturally, mentally, economically, spiritually, and in terms of nationality, race, sexuality, ability and age --

WE are the class of 1999!!!

A minority of women around the world have the opportunity to spend a number of years at an educational institution replete with such incredible resources. A place whose size, commitment and growing diversity contribute essential ingredients towards creating a dynamic learning community. Wellesley holds the tools to transform the educational process from one of a hierarchical and detached approach to education, to education as an integrated process of critical consciousness and action. We have experienced more than the popular banking concept of education that Paulo Freire spoke of -- where we the students step into the classroom as presumably open and empty accounts, and you our professors make deposits and hope your checks don't bounce. And let's not deny we've all bounced some. Calculus ... chemistry, did I mention I used to be pre-med?

We have all come to realize that learning involves taking risks, that we must accept the uncertainties involved in constantly questioning and challenging dominant paradigms of order and success. If Wellesley as an institution aims to empower women to create change, then Wellesley's challenge, at the onset of a new millennium in a changing world, is to overcome its fear of change -- from administrative decisions to academic initiatives to student life. If Wellesley neglects to meet this challenge, the message to the world will be the exact opposite of what I believe this institution intends. To believe in women necessitates believing in the power of women to envision and actualize transformation. In concordance with Wellesley's motto, what better place to teach and promote models of organizing for social change than within these walls?

Years ago when we first came to Wellesley, some of us held reservations about Wellesley being a women's college, others of us came precisely for this reason, and still others were presumably indifferent. Many years later, we sit here today as women sharing a nearly unique experience. In a world where women still face wide-spread discrimination, where domestic violence is the norm, where wage discrepancies still stand, and where rape is what women ask for, the importance of institutions devoted to the education and empowerment of women is unmatched. Wellesley provides a crucial space for women to gather and engage in a process of educational growth. The challenge to our Wellesley sisters who continue here in the years to come is to cherish this opportunity, coalesce, and maximize the power of your collective potential.

In our Wellesley microcosm of the world, we have observed and participated in a collective bouncing between chaos and community, and a personal balancing act of simultaneously finding ourselves and losing ourselves, of coming to know and respect ourselves and others. It is with the knowledge and understanding gained from our personal and collective conflicts and accomplishments that we inch nearer to the moment of moving further ahead.

Wellesley is a place of great privileges, and for many, enormous sacrifices. Without the support and sacrifices of our families, our guardians, our friends and even ourselves, none of us would have made it this far. We share a unique educational experience that comes hand in hand with great responsibility -- to work to destroy the causes that make such opportunities so incredibly rare for the majority of the world's women. To each determine for ourselves how to exercise our experience and responsibility. To become women who will not only make a difference in a world where, as Susan Kiguli writes:

"The gun is the spokesman
Prison is the courtroom
Detention is the password
Genocide is no crime"

but to become women who will make a different world.

We have reached a turning point. This particular forever is almost behind us, the next one is right around the bend. Together we made it this far, and together (even if physically apart), we will progress to the next.

We have made a journey. Yes, somehow we have all made it to the big Wellesley tent -- a tent that would not be standing, in a campus that would not be so stunning, with receptions and events that could not occur without the depth of commitment and hard work of Wellesley's incredible staff. The class of '99 thanks you deeply.

And at this juncture, we sit back; breathe in the excitement of this soon-to-be-culminated experience; take a last look around at this group of us, this body of women about to leap into the world, intent on making an impact ... and prepare to move on. At once aching for change and fearing transition, ready to flee and craving some of the comforts we have come to know.

For our families, our friends, our struggles, our achievements, our laughter, our commitments, our mentors, our memories, our growth, our strength ... for 1999.

We have made a journey. It's time we break free.

Related

1999 Pinanski Prize for Excellence in Teaching

Read the full citations.