Baccalaureate Student Address - Kristen Ford, E13

Ford received this year's Wendell Phillips Memorial Scholarship

May 18, 2013

Photo by Matthew Modoono for Tufts University

I promised my family I wouldn't come up here and act quote, unquote, foolish. But I didn't say anything about being loud. That being said, What's up 2013!!!!

The last time we were all sitting together like this was at matriculation, when President Bacow was telling us about all the amazingaccomplishments our class had in high school. I don't remember the whole thing, but he said something along the lines of, "among you 2013, is the student who found the cure for the common cold," "one of you just returned from the most recent space mission," "and one of you just finished walking on water." Now in my mind, I'm thinking I'm never gonna be that accomplished because as of four months ago in high school, my major accomplishment was finding a prom date. So naturally, I'm sitting on the quad in complete horror, just waiting for admissions to realize they'd made a mistake. I swore someone was going to tap me on my shoulder and say, "Wait, your name's Kristen Ford? Oh, we meant to accept Kristen Honda, I'm so sorry for the mix-up."  And I have to admit part of me is thinking someone's gonna kick this box I'm standing on and say, "Not today!" But hey, I paid some good money for this cap and gown so best believe I'm gon' graduate. But in all seriousness, we made it! We pulled all-nighters doing papers assigned two weeks before. We took the final exam and thanked God almighty for the curve. We failed sometimes, but never stopped trying. We felt silly for being that person in class who just didn't get it, but we continued to ask the questions. We pushed past our discomfort and leaned into understanding. We are the class of 2013.

For some of us, Tufts has been a place where we've met our best friends, many of whom will now travel to all parts of the country, and even the world. For some, Tufts has been the place where we've questioned our beliefs, challenged our society, and pushed our very limits. For some, college has been a source of constant joy and growth. While for others still, college has come with its fair share of struggle. Keeping in mind that everyone's experience at Tufts has been different, I had the most difficult time trying to figure out how to reach all of you. So I started off by just listening to other speeches just to get some inspiration. I lie to you not when I say one quote that appeared in legit, every single speech was, "Always aim for the moon, even if you miss, you'll land among the stars." Now before I took an astronomy class, that quote would've been all right with me, but now all I can think is, look, if your behind falls in space, you'd probably get sucked into a black hole and die. As you can imagine, that's not the message I'm going for here. So I consulted a number of people and one thing everyone told me was to speak from experience.

One experience in particular stuck out to me. As you know Boston weather can be fickle to say the least.  Usually, it's just annoying, but this year we got a couple snow days out of it so I was thankful. But one snow storm in particular, I went outside to go sledding on the president's lawn and the snow was legit like 3 feet high. I swear I thought I was gonna drown. You know, short people and snow above like 2 feet just don't mix. But anyway, at this point the snow hadn't been shoveled yet. So here I am trying to step through these huge walls of snow. Lesson of the day: Never buy snow boots from Payless. As you can probably imagine, my feet were devastated! I def felt some type of way when after all the struggle I went through everybody and their mom was using the path I just cleared.

At the time, I'm gonna be honest, I was cold and bitter, but after I had enough time to thaw out, I was able to see the huge parallels this situation had to my experience in the engineering school. I've been the only girl in many classes, and the only African American in nearly every class. At the beginning of my career at Tufts, I was angry. I was angry because I felt there was something I had to prove. I was upset that I had to be the one to be uncomfortable. Then I took a closer look at the path I'd chosen to follow. Whether I knew it or not at that time, my path had been that much easier, because someone before me decided to be uncomfortable. Someone before me saw that the snow was up to here, yet chose not to wait for society to clear the way and make everything easier. Someone decided to be the first person of color at Tufts. Someone decided to be the first woman from Jackson College to set foot inside the engineering building. Someone before me made a path for someone like me to further pave the way for someone who doesn't even know me yet. Someone made it possible for me to stand here today and I get goose bumps when I think about how maybe I'm doing that for someone else. For many of us, it is inevitable that in order to reach our destination we will have to trudge through uncomfortable situations. But don't shy away from these opportunities. Rather, take pride in knowing your footprint will be the thing that made someone else's dream possible. Be a trailblazer!

Be all that the world, or maybe even you, said you could never be. I remember getting my first ever exam back freshman year. I picked it up out of the pile of exams (a.k.a. the pile of shame), and I lie to you not, I remember saying, is this my grade or today's date? After a few disappointing exams, I went to my professor's office hours to express my concern, to which he replied, well not everybody is cut out for this. Maybe it's just not the right field for you.  For a minute, I almost accepted that, and then I heard something that caught my attention. I was in church one Sunday and the pastor read this scripture from Psalms, which simply says "The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." At the time I was like, look you've been preaching for like two hours; sit down. But the more I thought about it, the deeper it sounded. The very stone that was rejected by the people in charge was now the very thing holding everything together. I was that student who was quote, unquote, in over my head. I was that student professors bet wouldn't make it past sophomore year in the engineering school. I'm also that student who is graduating from the Tufts School of Engineering and going on to be a systems engineer at the Mitre Corporation. I am the cornerstone. To those of you who were told you couldn't do it or told yourselves you couldn't do it, you are the cornerstone. To those of you who pursued this degree with little to no support, you're the one who held it together.

Tomorrow we'll embark on a new phase of our lives. For some of us, things are going to go well instantly, and every day will be filled with rainbows, butterflies, and joy. But for those of us who are mere mortals, days are going to vary. Your job might be harder than you thought. School might be more challenging than you thought. Shoot, figuring out your next step might be hard. The road may be unpaved sometimes, and no one will necessarily try to make it easier for you. With each step you take, your shoes may be evaded by insecurities, challenges, and uncomfortable situations, but march on. In everything you do, leave your footprint. Just as we as a class have left our footprint on Tufts University. We are the cornerstones. We are the trailblazers. We are the bad mama jamas. We are the class of 2013.