Student Speech

Student Commencement Speech by Kara Hadge '08

Seniors, we have come a long way since we gathered together on Severance hill four years ago to take our first group picture as Wellesley’s next incoming red class during Orientation. Then, we sported red lanyards around our necks to avoid losing our prized possessions of the week: our brand new room keys, white ID cards, and, of course, the blue whistles given to us by Campus Police. Four years later, most of us have lost or mutilated our original ID cards; have been locked out of our rooms countless times or have locked out our roommates (sorry, Dominique); and learned long ago that this campus is probably the safest community in which we will ever live (thank you, Campus Police). Among that vast sea of faces in red t-shirts, we have found life-long friends. We have added new members to our red class and lost others. Our campus has changed around us, as has our community as we welcomed new class deans and this year, a new College President. How could any of us have anticipated the four crazy years that lay ahead that afternoon?

I remember walking over to Severance Green from the New Dorms during Orientation, and the daunting feeling of being in a new and unfamiliar place was compounded by the banners that hung from the walkway—the ones that proclaimed, “Women Who Will Make a Difference in the World,” and named accomplished alumnae such as Hillary Rodham Clinton, Cokie Roberts, Madame Chang Kai-Shek, and Carolyn Keene. As a first year, I would read the descriptions under their names that identified them as trailblazers, and I was in awe of their accomplishments. In later years, I think many of us have found that expectation that we, too, will change the world to be a little overwhelming.

But there is something we often forget when we talk about “Women Who Will Make a Difference in the World.” We aren’t just “women who will,” we are “women who do.” Wellesley women are a diverse group, but the thread that unites us is the passion that drives us. Whether we have spent these last four years invested in a sports team, a campus publication, a theatre or a cappella group, cultural organizations, college government, residential life, or other pursuits, we have all contributed to a community that is enriching and energizing. I am always bowled over when I attend Tanner and Ruhlman presentations and hear about my classmates’ experiences. We are women who do and have done so many amazing things, whether working with refugee children over the summer, traveling the world, or studying developing economies or cancer treatments. We quickly learn at Wellesley that there are no limits to the projects we can undertake or the goals we can set for ourselves to accomplish, and we learn this not only from the prodding of our professors, but also from the examples set by our peers, who are there to cheer us on and cheer us up every step of the way.

It’s hard sometimes to describe this environment to others. When I used to give tours for the Admissions Office, prospective students and their eager parents often asked me if being at a women’s college made Wellesley competitive. I always replied that any sense of competition was self-imposed by a student trying to outdo her own personal best, but I think now I would modify that answer. Being surrounded by women can be very supportive at certain times, but at others it can be outright challenging. We hold one another to such high standards that we have pushed one another to try harder, to take up new challenges, and to test the limits of our endurance. 

This is true at all levels of our experience here, but I think it begins in our conversations. Besides being women who do things, we are also women who talk about doing things—a lot. I think this is a good thing, because we’re not afraid to contradict each other. This has led to some very thought-provoking discussions, both inside and outside the classroom. I remember one night in Bates dining hall my first year when a debate about something got so animated, half the dining hall was turning to see what all the shouting was about. That stood out to me then, because I was a first year and still uninducted into the Wellesley way of life. However, when I’d reached a year of time at Wellesley College, and by the time I studied abroad, I realized I’d come to take these sorts of conversations for granted. I remember one day sitting in a class on Shakespeare while I was studying in London. We were reading All’s Well That Ends Well, and I had decided I didn’t like Helena and her very anti-feminist plan of tricking a man who wasn’t interested in her to marry her. In this class of twelve, there were three men and nine women, but none of them spoke up, either to agree or disagree. All I could think was that if I were at Wellesley right now, someone would have something to say!

Standing here today, it is tempting to say that Wellesley made us that way, but Wellesley did not give us a voice; it helped us discover our own. Now it is our responsibility to go out into the world and make sure each of our unique voices is heard. In 1972 the United Negro College Fund adopted the slogan, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste,” to draw attention to the fact that higher education was inaccessible to so many in the African-American community. In appreciation of the fact that we have been privileged to receive a first-class education at Wellesley, we should all be able to agree that yes, a mind is a terrible thing to waste—and so, too, is a voice. From our first-year Writing 125 classes to our upper-level seminars or senior theses, we have evolved into articulate women. For goodness’ sake, we procrastinate during finals period by writing haikus! During our time here, we have often been warned not to confine our debates to online forums; I don’t think that was an issue, though. The debates raged on from dining hall tables to classrooms to late nights out in the hallway of each residence hall. Challenged by one another when we disagreed and encouraged when we reached consensus, we have been given a great opportunity to learn to raise our voices in a community that supports that, whether or not we are saying something popular or accepted.

We have often been told that it is our duty to serve others and that it is our destiny to make a difference in the world, although that may sound intimidating today. However, we are graduating at a time filled with possibility: in an election year in which the first viable female candidate for the Presidency of the United States is a Wellesley alumna. The bar has been set high for us—but is that any surprise at Wellesley? After the incredible accomplishments I have already seen among my fellow classmates seated here today, I have no doubt that we all have the ability to go out and change the world. But we cannot and will not go quietly. When we leave this campus today or tomorrow, let’s take with us the spirit of intellectual discussion that this college has nourished in us. We’re Wellesley women: we all have something worthwhile to say. Let’s keep in touch, and let’s keep talking.