Shavonne Ward, William Smith Student Speaker
May 17, 2009

President Gearan, members of the Board of Trustees, members of the faculty, staff, distinguished guests, families, and most especially, fellow members of the Hobart and William Smith classes of 2009:

Like you I arrived on campus not knowing what to expect. I felt a sense of apprehension with a twinge of excitement. Four years seemed to be such a long time. I was excited to meet my roommate, but I wanted to arrive first to choose my side of the room.  After four years I have a confession to make….. I switched the mattresses around so I could have the new one.  WOW!! That’s such a relief to get off my chest, I feel so much better!  I know many of you here today are guilty of doing the same thing to your first year roommate.

During my time at the Colleges, I have grown from stealthily picking sides of a room to having a stance about how I feel about the world and discovering who I am.

Through our experiences at Hobart and William Smith Colleges we have been provided with new thoughts, identities, discoveries, and ways of viewing the world around us. With all of our senses being attuned to this newfound awareness, how can we not feel stirred to action? James Baldwin stated, “as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which their being educated. The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for herself or himself, to make their own decisions…”

As I reflect on these words, I realize that we have been blessed to be nourished in a community where taking a full course load, playing a sport, and traveling abroad the next semester are the norm. A place where having an individual major is an expression of ones self; a place where fifty degrees feels like a heat wave; a place where Geneva community members run alongside us at Bristol Field House. We have created so many memories here at the Colleges. We will remember those times we cheered for the Herons and Statesmen in the rain, sleet, and snow. We will remember the moments of celebrating Centennial, and the pride that we felt in realizing that we were apart of something bigger than ourselves; one hundred years of women leading here and in the world. The times we volunteered in the community through Days of Service, helping others, while at the same time seeing that world is riddled with disparities. The times we were caught green handed while basking in the sun, or playing Quad Olympics. The times we persuaded our professors to have class outside, the times we went to Wegmans in the wee hours of the morning to get a study break, and the times of saga sitting and chatting with friends. We have learned so much from professors and each other, but Betty and Showtime Joe have been a vital part of our lives here at the Colleges. They have supported us on the days we felt stressed out about work or celebrated when we were accepted to go abroad. It is amazing what their kind words and gestures have done for all of us.

These are experiences that we could only get at this extraordinary place of William Smith and Hobart. These experiences will launch us into a future that we will be molded after our intellectual, leadership skills, and commitment to equity. 

We are going to turn this world upside down, because we will not to be contained by the cliché of, ‘this is just how the world is.’ Our immersion for four years in our school colors will bring in the splash of white, orange, purple, and green to a world that is often seen as black and white.  People will notice our difference because we will wear it with a strength and power that can only come from within.

Recently I heard a young woman living with Down’s syndrome speak on campus. She said something that resonated with me: “I took the dis out of disability and made it my ability to help people with special needs.”  Due to our world’s experience that will lead to our lives of consequence, I see us taking “di” out of division to envision a world of inclusive excellence. I see us taking the “im” out of impossible to realize the possibilities of a world of no glass ceilings. Politically this has been a historic year, whether you voted for President Barack Obama or not, but the message of Yes We Can has reminded us that we can be vehicles of change to ensure a better today, tomorrow, and future. A seed was planted in each of us here at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. As we depart, remember to water your seed with knowledge, expose it to different climates, and relish in the sun as we grow with beauty and grace.

Congratulations classes of 2009!