Kate Leonard's Remarks and Introduction of Senior Speaker
Wow, would you look at this weather? Who would have guessed that we’d be crossing the stage on a day like this? I certainly didn’t, which is why I’ve left my weather-related commentary intentionally ambiguous.
So why mention it at all when I have to prepare my remarks well before the local meteorologists get their act together? For one thing, I love a good cliché. For another, it was all my friends could talk about. I’ve heard every possible theory about how this day would look, from “That’s when we’re finally going to get the snow!” to the ever more hopeful: “Legend states that no single drop of rain has fallen on a Wellesley Commencement ceremony since 1996.” Why do we care, though? Why does it matter if we’re hiding under umbrellas or baking inside giant black robes of misery? We’re all graduating anyway.
This entire ceremony, with all of its order and tradition, is based on the idea that it matters not just that things happen, but how they do. How we celebrate our milestones and how they are fixed in our memories influences our perception of the milestones themselves. With this in mind, I am delighted to introduce a student whose unparalleled wit will shape this day in our memories as a moment of triumph and joy.
I met Haley Harris through Dead Serious--for those not familiar, that is the Wellesley improv troupe. Haley was a power player, showing a fearlessness on stage rivaled only by her gumption in daily life. As our president, she brought order to our chaos and laughter to our bellies. Haley’s personal passions include a love for strong female leads, exhibited in her fondness for lady-cop crime procedurals and the films of Barbra Streisand and Cher. Haley has regularly acted in Upstage productions, a talent she honed while studying abroad at Wellesley in Aix.
In her hometown of Chicago, she has interned with the Mayor’s Press Office, The Art Institute of Chicago, and the YMCA, always putting her personal brand of humor and hard work to great use. A clever, thoughtful, and passionate person, her contributions to Wellesley have brightened the lives of her classmates every day.
Her keen observations on everything from the interplay between economics and culture in France to the best of Beyoncé have delighted her friends—the same friends who regularly host elaborate theme parties where Haley shows off her creativity in costuming. The girl’s got style.
So I invite you all to welcome our own strong female lead, Haley Harris.
My fellow seniors, I’m scared. I’ve spent four happy years here and now they’re telling me I have to enter the real world. Of course, you don’t have to worry. You are the women who have positions at Capital One or AmeriCorps waiting for you. You are the women whose contributions to your communities have led to recognition from Secretary Albright and President Clinton. You are the women who got As in macroeconomics. (Seriously, how did you do that?) But, my dear seniors, what about me? Sure, I am lucky enough to give this speech, but what if this is it? What if this is my moment in the sun?
What if I’m a “woman who won’t”?
Of course, I don’t want to be, but between the impending doom of leaving this campus and becoming a real person with little sense of direction and a degree in French, it seems there is ample reason for me, and my parents, to be nervous. I mean, where should I set my goals? When I was little, I wanted to be a princess-ballerina-cowgirl-house painter. Now, 15 years later, graduating from an elite women’s college—yes—it seems that only one of those dreams could become my reality. That obviously being a princess.
While here at Wellesley, I discovered interests and talents I never knew I had. But all of these years of discovery and growth have just made me want to add more hyphens to the list. Honestly, I couldn’t think of a lone job title I would be happy to hang my hat on—barring of course playing a lady detective on a long-running television show. I guess that would be one way to go. But I am a responsible Wellesley woman and should have a back-up plan.
So, I asked my Wellesley family what I should be.
I got suggestions like “life coach” and “Sherlock Holmes,” but the most detailed life plan I received came from Professor Courtney Coile. She said that I should move back to Chicago and get a government job to pay the bills while taking classes at the Second City, a renowned comedy theatre known for the likes of Gilda Radner and Tina Fey, where, upon making it as an improviser, I would be selected for the writing staff of the future’s version of 30 Rock. It’s certainly not a bad plan. But despite its creation and approval by an incredible Wellesley professor and respected economist, I worried about following through. What about the incredible luck involved? What if I ended up in a completely different place? How would I ever make it to the Alumnae Hall Wall of Fame to prove I did something worthwhile?
Around the same time that I fretfully pondered this question, a friend of mine sent me the video of Meryl Streep introducing Hillary Clinton at this year’s Women in the World Summit. She knew I needed to see it because these two women represent just about everything I would ever want to be. After watching the clip, two things stood out to me. First, Meryl Streep and Hillary Clinton were on the same stage and the Earth remained on its axis. Second, Ms. Streep’s speech was centered on the idea that as women, we all constantly judge each other, but it is driven by the search for inspiration, something we find readily in Secretary Clinton. As a result, we consistently compare ourselves to her. This concept is nothing new for Wellesley students. But it was absolutely new to me that a three-time Oscar winner could find herself lacking.
So, it appears we should all just give up. We can’t be Hillary! And apparently neither can Meryl, though she would be excellent in a biopic. But, I realized, it’s not about failing to reach those heights; it’s how they inspire us. I thought of the many times that one of Ms. Streep’s performances inspired me to dedicate more thought to my own. Or of the many times that Secretary Clinton’s work for women made me proud to start an argument on what it meant to be a feminist. Or how Ana Gasteyer’s impersonation of her on SNL made me want to make people laugh. These women, stars or otherwise, are the inspiration, not the end game.
We are all women who already have. You have made a difference in your short time here—as a volunteer, as a student, as a friend. It’s not going to stop anytime soon, and it’s not about having your face on a wall. In the words of another absurdly accomplished woman, Helen Hayes, "We relish news of our heroes, forgetting that we are extraordinary to somebody too." Whether you have recognized it or not, your being you, your being the kind of exemplary woman who has always embodied Wellesley, has had an effect on those around you.
So maybe you’ll be lucky enough to be one of the one-named divas: Cher, Beyonce, Hillary. Or, maybe you’ll be one of the equally important people with two-names—a Professor Coile, perhaps. Because whatever a Wellesley woman chooses to be or to do, she will find her success in her own self-perception and in those closest to her. No matter whether you have plans for the future or none at all, just keep repeating this mantra: I have made a difference, a positive difference, to someone.
Go make that difference, class of 2012—you’ve all got a head start because you are extraordinary to me.