Haley Lee-Burke ’24 delivered the student speech

To the members of the board of trustees, President Johnson, distinguished guest Michelle Au, faculty, staff, friends and family, and fellow members of the red class of 2024:

Good morning!

I don’t know if you remember, but our first-year orientation theme was “Love, Wellesley.” While I loved it, I have to admit that I was so confused by its grammar: “Love [comma] Wellesley.” Why was there a comma? Was this a typo? There really doesn’t need to be a comma there. Eventually, I realized that this was probably supposed to emulate a sign-off, as if Wellesley had just finished writing a letter or email welcoming us to campus. So, with today being our last day as students, I saw it fitting to finally write a letter back and respond, hopefully on behalf of everyone present today.

Dear Wellesley,

We met online, like so many relationships nowadays, and I fell in love with your enchanting buildings, magnificent lampposts, and your promise of belonging. You let me choose from a hundred reasons to love you, and despite our concerning 133-year age gap, we felt perfect for each other.

When we finally met in person during the pandemic, I think it’s safe to say that neither of us were the normal version of ourselves. You, for one, went through a controversial phase called the term system, and I thought it was a good idea to cut my hair with a pair of old craft scissors. And so, after a year of biweekly exams and an unevenly cut bob that was way shorter than the trim it was supposed to be, I couldn’t wait for things to go back to normal.

As with any long-term relationship, there were even more challenges. I took classes—econometrics, for one—where I felt like no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t succeed. I struggled to find my community, experienced friend break-ups, and felt like I was just surviving college instead of living it. They were also defined by cold walks of shame to the Mods after Sci, Pendleton East, and Clapp were closed for renovation. But, in hindsight, I realized these were growing pains, and as much as I was navigating my place in the world and working to improve myself, so were you.

As a whole, our good times spent together far outweighed the bad. I had professors who kayaked with me on Lake Waban and insisted I meet their cats over Zoom. They didn’t even hate me when I’d send desperate emails at 11:58 p.m. begging for an extension, or when I, shortly thereafter, turned in an essay late. Instead, they gave me second chances I didn’t feel deserving of and pushed me to succeed in ways that I never would have otherwise.

I also met a global, intersectional class of siblings who not only made this campus feel like a home but like a family. I’m constantly in awe of their unwavering willingness to put themselves on the line in order to stand up for their beliefs. Growing up, I often heard the joking saying that “Wellesley students are always mad about something.” After four years, I’ll admit that it’s true, but I’ll translate that to mean, “Wellesley students know how to get things done, and fast—well, kinda fast.” So, with major accomplishments like free laundry under our belt, I am proud of how we’ve ensured that Wellesley upholds its commitment to the accessibility and inclusion we were promised.

At this point, it’s hard to tell whether this should be a love letter or a breakup text. In a few hours, we’ll have to leave campus, and before that time comes, I want to ask for a few promises from everyone under this tent.

First, continue initiating the hard conversations. Be vocal and disagree loudly with the world around you when you see room for improvement. While we know that collective action is a prerequisite to making a difference, don’t be discouraged from being the first voice in the room that demands change, because no matter where you are, there may be countless generations of Wellesley alums nearby who are just as fed up as you are.

Second, offer yourself the grace and love that you’ve so often given others. We are not conventional nor do we tread a beaten path. Dedicate this time to celebrating your achievements and the profound resilience they required. Remember that, no matter how many times you may have experienced imposter syndrome, you are finally in that seat, you belong here, and you always have. Before you leave, savor the red streamers strung about campus and say a long goodbye to your coveted single dorm room. If you’re willing, seek closure with the friends that have come and gone, and appreciate the hardships and silly memories we’ve shared in tandem.

Third, and most importantly, walk slowly when it’s your turn to cross this stage, make a funny face for the jumbotron, and show off your hard-earned smiles.

To the class of 2024, congratulations on this once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment. To my parents, and to all our loved ones who uprooted their lives so that we could grow and flourish here, this ceremony is as much for you as it is for us. Thank you, we love you, and congratulations. And last but not least, to Wellesley, thank you for giving me a space to learn, cry, and laugh my heart out.

With scarlet love [comma]

Haley Lee-Burke