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Speech by Sophie Kim '06
Thank you, President Walsh. And welcome honored guests, faculty, administrators, family and friends. On behalf of the Class of 2006, thank you for being a part of our lives and for allowing us to share this moment with all of you. I would also like to extend a very special thank you to our Class Dean, Joy Playter, whose guidance and counsel we have all sought; thank you for your commitment to our class, and your confidence in each of us. Finally, to the members of the Class of 2006, so many of whom I am proud and fortunate to call my good friends, I share this stage and honor with all of you.
When we entered Wellesley—not a “girls’ school,” but a women’s college, not as freshmen, but as “first-years”—perhaps the farthest thing from our minds then was the Commencement exercises of which we are now a part. We could not have imagined then the ways in which we would change, and the people we would become over the course of the past four years. I hope you are proud of your many accomplishments, however great or seemingly trivial, and consider the person you are today among the successes of your time spent here at Wellesley.
We have taken different paths to this common point, but we are finally here in this moment together, prepared to embark upon another set of distinct journeys as we begin this next phase in our lives. We acknowledge that Wellesley is not the place for everyone. But it has been the place for all of us these past few years. We have shared a common space, but found ways to make Wellesley and our experiences distinctly our own. A certain degree of ownership naturally evolves from making something “our own,” and it is my hope that we will carry with us a sense of ownership over this place when we leave.
We are continuing on with our lives outside of—but not apart from—Wellesley. Whether it is on the crowded streets of New York City, or in Cape Town, South Africa, we know that Wellesley women are indeed everywhere, and it is very likely that you may notice the Wellesley canvas tote bag she is carrying even before you recognize her face. For this reason, among others, I have come to realize that our association with this institution and what it represents in its values, history and its past and future legacy is almost inescapable—we are, and will forever be, “Wellesley Women.”
As students and alumnae, we also have the opportunity to define what Wellesley is and what it will become. Wellesley will remain a part of our lives and exist as a part of our identities as much as we allow it to. I choose to remain invested in the future of this institution. If you are like me, you did not choose to attend Wellesley because it was a women’s college, but over the course of the past four years, you have found yourself more committed to the purpose and mission of our college than you ever would have thought.
Gender equality is more of a reality today than it was even in our parents’ generation, but there is still more progress to be made, particularly in promoting the advancement and visibility of women in all sectors of society. Some of the notable challenges of the past year, namely a certain university president’s regrettable remarks about women’s aptitude in the sciences, have demonstrated that there is still more work to be done in reversing the stereotypes about women’s innate intellectual abilities. The media’s proclivity for the sensational, whether in an article printed in the Boston Herald or the Harvard Crimson, only compounds the stereotypes about women generally, and a women’s college specifically, illustrating the ignorance we still face.
Thus, there is still a place for institutions like Wellesley in our world, where a woman’s ability, capacity, leadership and intellect are unquestioned. I am confident that Wellesley will continue to be the leader in educating women who will not only make a difference in the world, but who will also be a leader in educating those individuals who are misguided about a woman’s place and the difference that we do make. I hope that we, as alumnae, will continue to see the relevance of a women’s institution, and ensure that Wellesley remains committed to its mission.
Whether it’s on the streets of Wall Street, the halls of Capitol Hill, in the classroom of an elementary, high school or graduate school, your home, or on the grassy lawn of Severance Green in your cardboard box, I hope you will aim to find meaning in the work that you do and the life that you lead.
Earlier this year, I lost my mother to a short-lived battle with cancer. In my mother’s passing, I came to understand what it means to live, and to live well. I often thought to myself that had my mother been given the same opportunities she fought so hard to give both my older sister and me, that she, too, could and probably would have attended Wellesley. My mother embodied the spirit of a “Wellesley Woman”—confident, poised, passionate, smart, bold, a leader in her community and thoroughly engaged with the world around her. But above all of these things, she demonstrated what it means to live a full and good life by serving others with heart, humor and genuine good will. My sister said it best when she said, “It does not matter the number of days we live, but how we live the number of days we have been given.” Making each day count, and exemplifying our college motto, my mother lived her life ministering to others.
The following quotation, attributed to the American thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson, is an eloquent expression of how one might define a life well lived:
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived;
This is to have succeeded.
Whatever social, political, professional or personal revolutions we commit ourselves to now and in the future, I hope we will seek to live each day deliberately and mindfully. Our community’s loss this past semester of Jennie Lee ’07 reminded me how important it is to be cognizant of the people around us. With Jennie’s passing, I became committed to engaging more with the individuals around me, and allowing other people’s struggles to burden my heart. I have also come to realize that thinking about the ways you might like to be remembered at the end of your life can profoundly inform how you live. Therefore, live meaningfully, live purposefully and strive for something greater than yourself all the while pursuing your passions. Live your life’s legacy—beginning now.
Make your mark in the world, Class of 2006. Our footsteps are already imprinted on this campus. I am looking forward to the years ahead and the things this class of women will surely do. Congratulations and take care; I look forward to reuniting with you all in five years!