"Wendell Phillips was a nineteenth-century attorney, orator, abolitionist, and advocate for women's and Native People's rights. The Wendell Phillips Address is intended to deliver a message to inspire the graduating class and all who are gathered to reflect on how a Tufts education, and specifically the experiences of the graduating senior class, might help make the world a better place through constructive civic engagement.
The Wendell Phillips Award was established in 1896. The award is given annually to a senior who demonstrates both marked ability as a speaker and a high sense of public responsibility. Selected by the Committee on Student Life, the winner is the one graduating senior invited to offer a speech as part of Commencement, and the speech takes place during the Baccalaureate Ceremony. The speech is intended to deliver a message about civic engagement in our time."
Photo Creds: Alonso Nichols
Thank you Dean Lizarribar for the wonderful introduction.
Good Afternoon, Family, Friends, President Monaco, Board of Trustees, Faculty, staff, and of course, the class of 2023.
I am incredibly honored and humbled to be speaking here today. I would like to thank my dedicated professors, my friends, classmates, and last but not least my family for making these four years both special and memorable.
Look at how far we have come. It takes a village, and we are here because of ours.
As the saying goes, “If you want to go fast go alone, and if you want to go far, go together (in community).”
When I applied to Tufts, there was a warmth on the hill and an urgency to the students–a good urgency–an urgency that said we are here to help people, engage with our communities, and dive into the hard work to make society a better place for all. Above all, Tufts students are cognizant of the world around them. Cognizant and curious about both the beauties and injustices that we ought to face both as undergrads, and now as almost graduates and our spaces in the wider world. Four years later, my first impressions (along with the infamous quirkiness of each of us) still remain.
In thinking about our Tufts experience and being a writer, I have compartmentalized everything into a series of stories. How we tell our stories, how we have told our stories, how we will tell our stories, but most importantly, how we listen to the stories of others, and how we then are able to mobilize in efforts to create real change, equitable, just change.
The Observer magazine layouts took place in four conjoined rooms of curtis. I remember the camaraderie, the laughter, and how each and every single person on the staff stayed in this room together, many times well beyond 1 am to finish each biweekly issue. The teamwork and the sheer dedication from the students was always so palpable and I thought to myself, how committed students here at Tufts were and are. So committed in our efforts to produce and do good work in our clubs, in our classrooms, but most significantly in our communities. We have a duty to help people tell their stories and we took it seriously. Through the Observer, I met engineers, activists, and poets from our class. We all had an intensity and a sense that we could and will come together to create something so beautiful both in appearance and in message. In a series of colorful pages, we were able to amplify both community and student voices. Tufts and You all who have written and organized both in the Observer, and elsewhere on campus (whether it is in The Daily, your organizations, or within your classes) have shown that stories matter, our stories matter, and just as importantly if not more, amplifying the stories and voices of those who are not able to be in every one of these rooms, that they matter. And we have to be radical and unapologetic in doing so, because we care.
I have been honored to serve as the President of the Tufts English Society: A group of English majors/minors, and enthusiasts. In the fall semester of 2022, we held a study session in East Hall, around the week of the reading period before final exams had begun. As students filtered in and out, by the end of the night, one of my friends and I noticed a freshman who stayed behind with us to the very end, when the donuts began to harden, the hot chocolate wasn’t even hot, and the moon was out. As the three of us packed up, he smiled and turned to us and said, “Thank you for this. Thank you for this space,” And that’s when I knew that what may have felt like another event to me, made an impact on at least one person. This became a goal of mine, one that pervaded beyond Tufts, and within my everyday life: To truly create an impact on one person or multiple people’s experiences, in some place, at some point, in some period/time. A way to show them that, we see you. We hear you. There is a space for you. You won’t be left behind.
Capen House resides on the second and third floors of the Africana Center on Professors Row. The stately mustard building, built in 1875 and once home to then President Elmer Hewitt Capen, holds a unique history on this campus. In 1969, after student protests and mobilization for more support and representation for Black students on campus, the Afro-American Cultural Center was born. We owe it to our predecessors, the Black students that came before us to honor their work everyday, to never forget their sacrifices, and to keep their legacies in tact. We owe it to the faculty, staff, and student leaders of the Africana Center that keep it running. Living in Capen has always been a badge of pride. From the walls, to the steps, to the creaks, and the idiosyncrasies of the house, there are layers of stories in these walls. We, as Black students, are a part of this living history. Whether it is through our activism, our creative outlets through theater, art, and literature, within our classes, or just by being in the space, on the campus, and showing up for ourselves and each other every single day.
I would be remiss to not talk about the impact of music on my experience at Tufts and its role in both community and creativity. Particularly by way of my acapella group, The Ladies of Essence. Through late night rehearsals, music arrangements, performances, and bondings, this group taught me (the strength of numbers and) the power of unity and our music as healing. Six hours a week, where textbooks weren’t opened, problem sets were a worry of the future, and essays were tomorrow’s task. The group taught me to be more present, with my peers and myself, in order for us to come together and strive for a common goal of beautiful music and soulful singing. A collective effort, and a creative one, that required our energy, our hearts, our minds, our beings to be in the room all at once. In harmony or in unison, but together, nonetheless.
This hill has taught me resistance. Not only by its sheer steepness and magnitude but as a reminder that I am a part of something larger than myself. And within the challenges we have faced while in college: a pandemic, loss, grief, systemic injustices, there were moments when I felt like a character in Greek Mythology and took the place of sisyphus, where I was constantly moving the boulder up the mountain only for it to fall right back down as soon as I tried to reach the top. However, within trials, errors, and tribulations I have learned dedication, still pushing and fighting for what I believe to be true even if I realized that the ball was bigger than me, the hill was bigger than me, bigger than us.
You all have organized for dining workers’ rights, provided supplies for food insecure families, mentored and tutored students, facilitated voting protocols and procedures for key elections both locally and nationally, and you have remained both committed and humbled in your efforts. It is not naive to say that you can do this–we can do this because with the passion and drive that we have and our newfound tools as graduates with this education, we can do meaningful things. Above all, we have seen how the ball becomes lighter with more hands.
Each and every single one of us and each and every single person that we will encounter has a story. We have to write. Both literally, pen to paper. But also write in our respective ways. Write, create, code, research, operate. Write stories that mean something to people. Write for change. Right/write and rewrite( right) the wrongs around us, and continue to repair and repatch, to help, to heal, not for our egos, or for righteousness, but simply because we care. Write stories that mean something to people. Our next chapters are blank and there is work to be done. This can be daunting. But, the possibilities, the plot, the characters in our stories are still evolving. And that can be a beautiful thing, too.
Audre Lorde once said, “We are making the future as well as bonding to survive the enormous pressures of the present, and that is what it means to be a part of history.”
Let’s be a part of the history and do some good in the world, class of 2023.
As Dr. Samuel Dubois Cook states, “have a vision of excellence, a dream of success, and work like hell.”
Thank you and Congratulations, Class of 2023!