Senior Speech

Katie Joh at podiumAfter an introduction by Co-President of the Class of 2014 Erica Choo, Katie Joh spoke to her fellow graduates.

Erica Choo '14

On behalf of the 2014 class council, my co-president Christie Lee and I would like to welcome our friends and family who have come here today to support the royal purple class of 2014. We would also like to give a big thank you to all of our esteemed faculty who have supported and inspired us over the past four years. We would not be here today if it weren’t for the endless guidance and knowledge that you have all bestowed upon us.

With that said, we are pleased to present our student speaker this year: an international relations major and education studies minor hailing from California, chosen for her enthusiasm and light-hearted humor. Without further ado, please join me in welcoming our wonderful speaker, Katherine Joh!

Katie Joh '14

Most schools have mascots. This being Wellesley, we have an archetype instead: Wendy Wellesley.

Typically, when you think of a Wendy, you think of the perfect “woman who will”: intelligent, organized, articulate, passionate, and most often, just a little too much of all those things.  

I’ve always wondered for a while now if this is why the bus that takes us to and from Boston is called Peter Pan. The powers that be must have thought it would be pretty funny, if, every hour on the hour, from 7 a.m. to midnight, Peter came and spirited Wendy away to Neverland. It’s also pretty appropriate that in the fairy tale, Peter Pan is constantly late and not the best at communication. He always comes and you always forgive him... but you also spend a lot of time staring down the empty road and calling, “Peter, where are you????”

Now, the argument could be made here that Neverland, here, represents Boston and Cambridge. After all, the city is where we go for fun. It’s where we go to find good food, busy streets, relief from our responsibilities, and for some of us, the occasional Lost Boy.

But at its heart, Neverland is about dreams. Neverland is where the impossible walks around in the light of day; where fantasies blossom into easy realities in the midst of its woods and waters. And it is here at Wellesley, in these woods and these waters, that Wendy has the space and room she needs to live among her dreams: putting yet another crack in that glass ceiling, calling out racism, creating beauty, curing cancer, or even just waking up in the morning.

Here we are taught to believe and to loudly sing, “You can fly, you can fly, you can fly!”—and indeed, I have seen so many of you, my classmates, soar to incredible heights through the years.

But here’s the catch.

Sometimes, storms come to Neverland. In the past four years, people have left us, rejected us, hurt us—or we have hurt them. We’ve made all sorts of mistakes and been left with no clue of how we could fix them. And the world around us has hurt us, through oppression, tragedy, ignorance, or simply physical illness. For whatever reason, most of us have had that moment, where we have found ourselves banging our heads against an immovable wall, or screaming in anger out the window, or just curled up on our beds with heartache, wishing Peter had never brought us to Neverland.

And all the while, Wellesley is demanding that we fly in two different directions at once, carrying a load of bricks on our back, spreading magic as we go and smiling brightly every second of the way. So, even though there’s a hurricane outside, we put on our perfect faces, strap on our wings, and step out into our “perfect” worlds. And somehow, the dream becomes touched, at almost… every… point… with this unforgiving question: "Am I good enough?"

So what do you do? And I don’t mean that as a rhetorical question—I mean, really, you—when your dreams have turned into nightmares and you’re walking around with a mask on just to try to hide the simple fact of your hurt and imperfection, where have you turned?

If you’re me, you start by hiding in your room, busting out the junk food, and obsessively going on Buzzfeed or YouTube or blogs written by people a lot smarter than you are. And then, when you have a headache from staring at your computer screen for too long, you turn off the lights, and get into bed.

And once you’re there, you let yourself cry like a baby, and you sit in whatever it is that’s breaking your heart. And, for me in particular, I pray, because after all of this, these four years of learning and growing, I still find that my God is the only person big enough to hold all of this messiness and all this hurt. Maybe you don’t pray, but I do hope you have found someone, or something, big enough to sit with you and to hold you in those moments.

And, when the crying is over, you get up in the morning, and you start being honest with yourself.

Honesty, for me, has meant, three things.

First, honesty has meant recognizing that I just can’t do everything. In the wise words of one of my favorite Wellesley professors: “Balance is bull.”

Second, honesty has meant putting aside time to remember who I am and to accept that person: the things I actually can do, the things that drive me, that make me laugh, all of my weird quirks, my passions and joys, even the ones that will never pay the bills.

And finally, honesty has meant recognizing that I need other people. That even if people here—by which I mean all of you—can be intimidating, if I can put my ego aside, you are also just really cool, and have a lot to teach me. That even if I don’t always want to go home, I will always need my family’s unconditional love. And that even if it’s not easy, to love and to be loved by people around you is one of the greatest things in the world.

And when I have been really honest about these things, about who I am, what I love, and by whom I am loved, one way or another, my dreams have come back to life, and I have been free again to appreciate Neverland for all the wonder that it is.  

At the end of the story, Peter Pan stopped coming for Wendy; instead, time came to steal her youth and her wings. Siblings, sisters, friends—today is the day for us when we, too, give up our wings. But here, too, we can learn from the original Wendy. Because even though she wasn’t able to return to Neverland, for as long as she lived, she carried its wild and beautiful impossibilities inside of her. And she didn’t just keep that for herself; she passed on the spirit of living dreams to those who came after her. As the story goes, years later when Peter Pan  eventually came back to take Wendy to Neverland, he went instead with her daughter Jane, and then Margaret, and generations of children to follow - children who had grown up hearing Wendy’s stories of the impossible coming to life. Those children may have needed Peter and Neverland to learn how to fly, but Wendy, Wendy is the one who taught them to dream of it.

So as we leave, let us commit to being Wendies in that sense, in the truest sense—not “women who will,” but dreamers and storytellers. As we have flown, run, or stumbled after our dreams through these past four years, let us continue to pursue them still. Maybe you know exactly what you’re pursuing from here on out, and maybe not. That's OK. But wherever you’re going, or however you’re planning on getting there, take today to really sit and think about where or to whom you have turned in these past four years when things have fallen apart. Take today to reflect on what both the beauty and the storms of Neverland have taught you—honesty, love, and all the rest of it—then grab on to that and just run with it, because I know you’re all going to be awesome. And take today to hope that maybe, just maybe, we too will be able to instill in those who will follow the desire to dream as we have dreamed.

Thank you. Congratulations to the Class of 2014!

Commencement 2014

program

commencement program

PINANSKI PRIZE

2014 Pinanski Prize for Excellence in Teaching

 

speakers

Sue Wagner headshot

Sue Wagner '82, co-founder and director of BlackRock, Inc.: 2014 Commencement Address

Wellesley College President H. Kim Bottomly: Charge to the senior class

Katie Joh in 2013 headshot

Katie Joh '14, international studies-political science major and education minor: senior speech