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Student Commencement Speech by Dana Weekes
Thank you. Thank you. Good morning. Good morning. I would like to thank all the parents, guardians and families who dedicated themselves to their daughters’ success. College is cycle of stripped identity in which we continuously challenge our minds, step outside our comfort zones, and sometimes lapse into being lost. Without you, we would not have a foundation to feel grounded ever so often, so thank you.
To our professors: Thank you for making learning our passion. Twenty years from now, it will not be the grade you gave us that mattered, but the lessons you taught us through the textbooks, the discussions, and the office hours. Eloquently stated and simply put, you all are wonderful. And to those who have chosen or will choose the career of teaching at the elementary, middle and/or high school levels, please stand. (Pause and clapping). I ask that you teach with passion and share your passion with your students. Although doctors heal, lawyers represent, contractors build, and bankers invest, you help instill in us the hunger for knowledge, the passion to learn, and help ignite the flame to set ablaze our dreams. If it were not for the teachers in our lives, you would not sit or, in my case, stand before you today.
To the administrators and staff: Unlike other institutions, you allow us to initiate. This year has been a learning experience for all of us, and yet through our mistakes and achievements, you never denied us another opportunity to initiate change, initiate conversation, initiate an idea that could make a difference. Thank you for allowing us to make mistakes, supporting our efforts, and celebrating our accomplishments. In this day and age, it is rare for an environment to exist where one can break her mold, her cookie-cutter idea, and let herself become, quite simply, what she chooses to be. For that, we thank you.
To my Wellesley sisters of ’06, ’05, ’04, and Davis Scholars: your time will quickly arrive. Do not rush along this journey, but experience it. Through my time at Wellesley many of you have been my teachers. I will never forget the lessons you lived and that I have learned.
And last, but not least, to my ’03 sisters: You have helped to define me as the woman I am today. I came to Wellesley on a feeling; not knowing how to pronounce “Wellesley,” not knowing it had a lake, just having a feeling that it was right. And for the past four years, you never made me doubt my decision. You women rock my world, and I hope I’ve gotten most of your signatures for my collection of famous people.
Entitlement. It’s a word that may have crossed our minds at some point or another during our four years at Wellesley. You may have felt entitled when someone hastily questioned, “Why a girls’ school?” and you replied, “Why not a women’s college?” Or getting on the senate bus before all the men at Harvard Square. You may have felt entitled to correct someone in their pronunciation of “Wellesley” as “Wellsleyan,” “Wessley,” or “that Hillary Clinton school.” Or, you may have felt the sense of entitlement despite the speeding oncoming car because you were in the green walkway. Or sitting here now, today, ready to graduate, as a Wellesley woman. You may feel, my sisters, a sense of entitlement. But why?
During the chapel scene taping of Mona Lisa Smile, I was not allowed to walk through a scene because the cameras were rolling, so I stopped to watch since I had no other viable option. “Action!” someone screamed, and in an instant, Wellesley transformed itself into its past. It was 1954 again, marked by the beanie caps, the tweed-brown skirts, and the curled hair worn stiff against the neck or the back. In this reenactment, I did not exist, and it marked a time when I barely existed in my own Wellesley history. But understand that this moment, as indescribable as it was, could be described as hauntingly empowering. It fact, it was. For a rare moment in my life, I was living in two periods simultaneously: a period marked by Brown vs. Board of Education coupled with the new millennium, quite ironically, the period of University of Michigan. Today, I exist along with twenty-eight other black students. I am a trailblazer, just like each and every one of you here today.
As you sit ready to walk across the stage and receive your Wellesley diploma, take no comfort or felicity in feeling entitled. The feeling of entitlement shall only last the moment that you step foot on the stage until the moment you walk off the stage. We’ll call this period the “Entitlement Strut” or “Stroll” for those of you who want to savor the moment just a little longer. Now, don’t get me wrong, Wellesley will open doors for us, people may sit up a little straighter when they see or rather hear the letters W-E-L-L-E-S-L-E-Y, in that particular sequence. But I’ve got a question for you, my sisters: Why? Who made Wellesley what it is today? Who defined Wellesley? Who placed Wellesley between the words respect and distinguish? Who made this name come to life? Who is writing Wellesley’s history as I speak? It certainly had to be somebody, or should I say, some woman.
Ironically, these were the same types of questions I was asking myself during the taping of Mona Lisa Smile. And interestingly, this is the same conclusion I have reached. This world is not changing or quickly transforming before our eyes. 9/11 did not mark the time of world transformation. We are not witnessing a recreation of the world with the blink of the eye. We, my sisters, are changing. We are becoming more aware, more conscious, more educated, more worldly. We are growing, or at least I hope so. And as we grow, we are the ones who must understand that, sadly, race matters, money matters, sexual orientation matters, religion matters, beauty matters, and the fact that we are graduating from a higher educational institution with a woman liberal arts degree means that gender matters as well. And why must we understand this? Why must we be forced to think about these things? Because with our degree, we are entering this world as forerunners, as trailblazers. We are the world’s progress, the world’s change. We define the world’s actions, the issues, the mistakes, and the achievements. And so, my sisters, I hate to break it to you, but no where can entitlement become our state of mind, our state of being. Like Honor Johnson, Cecile Kennedy, and Alice Yen, the only two women of African descent and the one woman of Asian descent from the graduating class of 1954, we must continue to act on our behalf because we are continuously building the stage for our future generations. We must build a stage like the women and men who have built it for us at Wellesley, including our parents, family, friends, administrators, staff, and faculty.
But as I thank these women and men, never forget the backbone to this institution: the ones who maintain the beauty and safety on this campus day in and day out, the ones who cook our meals, driving us into Boston, clean the bathrooms. (Pause and clapping) These are the people who do the complicated and laborious tasks that we simply overlook on our way to class or running into Boston. Thank you, women and men, for building our stage as well.
So my sisters, build the next stage for our next generation of sisters and for ourselves. Be the next trailblazers. The next neurosurgeons, the next fashion designers, the next political influentials, the next housing development guru, the next director of the women’s center at the NIH, the next CEO’s, the next lacrosse coach, the next pastor, the next teacher, the next professor, the next Dean of Students. Be the next and/or be the first. And for those trailblazers who choose to have a family, the best legacy that you, your husband, and/or your partner can leave behind is the one you raise: your child. (Pause and clapping).
After the ups and downs, we remain our family’s legacy, just like we will remain Wellesley’s. You, my sisters, should have no need or desire to feel entitled. For wanting entitlement is wanting a sense of complacency, wanting the world to honor you. And how passive, yet difficult does that sound. My sisters, we should be far beyond that state of mind. It is time that we honor the world we live in, which will sometimes bring praise along with enough criticism for one person to chew. But at least you’ve become your own judge. You have become your own woman. And there is something, something, my sisters, empowering in that. Thank you.