Baccalaureate Student Address - Jessica Wilson, A'14

Wilson received this year's Wendell Phillips Memorial Scholarship

May 17, 2014

Photo by Alonso Nichols/Tufts University
Good afternoon everyone. Before I begin, I just want to take a quick moment and thank two very important people sitting here in the front row. I wouldn’t be half the woman I am today without the unconditional love, support and dedication of my mom and dad. So I thank you for giving me life and the honor of being your daughter. While we are on the topic, I would like to extend an even greater thank you to all the beautiful people sitting in the back. To all the mothers, fathers, guardians, grandparents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, best friends and loved ones. Without all of your support, patience, and devotion we wouldn’t be sitting here in these seats and graduating tomorrow. So on behalf of the class of 2014, we sincerely thank you. For everything.
To the Tufts class of 2014: We made it! In less than 24 hours we will be receiving our diplomas, packing our bags and moving forward with our post college life. We will be joining this thing called “the real world” that is no longer within our Tufts bubble. But before we talk about what’s coming up next in life, lets bring it back to the beginning. Let's bring it wayyy back to matriculation day and where it all started. Now I don’t know about you, but I remember matriculation like it just happened. For one, it was like 98 degrees, and half of us were sitting in the hot heat, while the other half was cooling out in the back under some trees. We sat randomly with people we barely knew, making awkward small talk about nothing important. Former President Bacow made the quintessential speech about all the impressive features of the incoming class—making 99.9 percent of us feel like we hadn’t accomplished anything in life besides getting into Tufts. But what I distinctly remember about matriculation day was the moment all the families got in their cars and left. We said our final goodbyes, and just like that they were gone. I recall standing right in front of Ballou Hall, right by the jumbo statue when my parents left me. I turned around and thought, okayyyyy now what? We didn’t really know anyone, and its not like we had much to do. Our options were to either walk around aimlessly with a group of people we just met, or go back to our dorm room where it felt secure and not so overwhelming.  And then of course you had family calling later in the evening asking questions like, "Sooo, how's Tufts? How's the college life?" As if it were the first day of 3rd grade.
But it's funny because I remember standing there in front of Ballou Hall, frozen and stagnant. I was scared, because for the first time something in life was really out of my sphere of control and I realized that real risks had to be made in order to succeed and take advantage of my time here at Tufts.
We were kind of just thrown into this phase of our life. I don’t mean to be overly dramatic. We are incredibly privileged to be here and to have this opportunity. But for the first time we were on our own and had the liberty to start making our own life decisions—whether good or bad. We were in a new environment, making new friends and figuring out and developing our sense of self and character. For some, including myself, this transition was really difficult. That balance between putting yourself out there, but also focusing on your main priorities for being here. Some of us got through these four years with ease, but for the majority, this Tufts environment was (and still is!) incredibly challenging and demanding. From difficult course loads, busy academic, athletic and extracurricular schedules, to taking care of our physical, mental and emotional health.  Having some doors shut in our face, but always seeking another one for support. Having people tell you or treat you like you’re not enough, worthy or a good fit. Coming from certain backgrounds and communities and therefore having to adjust and navigate your way through these four years. Dealing with difficult people and confronting complex issues, but facing those challenges with adversity and accepting them fully without a doubt or lack of courage. As privileged as we are to be here, it hasn’t been an easy road, and for most of you in the back, you know that, because you were most likely on the other end of that phone call. I can’t tell you all how many times my poor father had to hear me out through tears and sobs and guide me back on course. But we never walked this difficult road alone—because all of you made it possible to be here—together.

So to the previous question: How's college? Which I hope we can answer now. It’s been a different experience and fostered a distinctive sense of value for everyone, so I really cant speak for everyone’s time here. But as I said, we made it here today. All the late hours binge eating in the commons; all of the all-nighters and watching the sun rise in Eaton computer lab; to all the places we have traveled and people we met across the country and the world; to all the lasting relationships we have built and memories we made; and to all the tears, laughs, inside jokes, struggle bus moments and anticipation leading up to this weekend. We made it.
So here we are today ready to take on the next phase of our life. We’ll be preparing ourselves for graduate school, careers, travel or time off to be with family or just reflect and be one with ourselves. There is just this continuous ebb and flow in life that I find so serendipitous. The idea that everything that happens, all the people we meet, experiences we have and places we go prepare us for what’s next. If anything. The exposure we have had over the past four years—both good and bad—and the risks we have taken have gotten us to where we are today. The communities we have built around us have loved, supported and nourished us with the strength to thrive and grow. But I challenge all of you, including myself, to never loose that desire to expose yourselves to new challenges and new experiences—to always take risks and not be so calculated in your decisions—because sometimes that decision is really not up to you. If there is something I have learned over the past four years, it's to never feel stuck and to find the unexpected in the expected. To trail blaze your own path and not dictate that path ahead of time. To understand that life will not always be comfortable and smooth, because then how would you learn about yourself, your true self, if things in life don’t go horribly wrong sometimes and not as planned.  Remember to be love and be comfortable with yourselves, and never compare your success with others, but rather use yourself as a measure for your own success.
I remember that freshman Jessica standing, alone and stuck, no knowing what was to come next. I remember that freshman class of 2014, figuring things out for themselves, making mistakes, taking risks, challenging themselves and challenging others. We made this experience our own over the past few years, shaping and molding it to fit our goals, needs and desires. And now we are about to be set out into the next phase of our life and start taking new risks, exposing ourselves to new places, people and experiences. Building communities for ourselves to support and love us wherever we are.
Thank you.