We are coming to the last few Senior Orations, and hope you have enjoyed the very thoughtful and poignant reflections of our senior finalists. Today we are featuring the oration of Andrea Beck.
We Are Not Equals
I’d like to share a story about a friend of mine from high school. In many ways, she and I were very similar – both six feet tall with long dark hair and both three-sport athletes at our rival high schools. We played the same position on the volleyball court and became friends when we played for the same club team during our senior year. At that point, we had both signed to play volleyball in college and were excited about our futures.
My friend Meme and I both earned playing time during our freshman seasons, but the winter of freshman year is where our stories diverge. As I looked forward to the rest of my college career, Meme’s life suddenly changed forever because she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I was lucky to enjoy a rewarding volleyball career that exceeded my expectations, but while I was fighting for a winning record on the volleyball court, Meme was battling for her life. She lost her long dark hair during several rounds of chemotherapy and had many surgeries, including a hysterectomy that left her unable to have children. The last time I saw Meme was when I attended her funeral four months ago.
When I hugged my friend’s devastated parents at her funeral visitation, it struck me that I had lived out the future that they had likely envisioned for their daughter. There is no reason why I should have enjoyed good health while she battled a terrible disease, but those were the cards we were dealt.
Situations like these make it painfully obvious that, to a certain extent, we lack control over our circumstances. While I believe that we help shape our destinies through our decisions, sometimes we do not necessarily “deserve” what life throws at us. While we are not all forced to battle incurable diseases, we all face physical, intellectual, and social challenges, and these struggles are also very real. We are not equals. We are born with a particular set of natural talents and deficiencies that help to determine our personalities and our passions. The beauty of the human race is in its diversity; whether you find your situation “fair” or not, your abilities, your challenges and your experiences are unique to you.
I have always heard that college is supposed to be the time for us to figure out who we are, and now that my time at Wake Forest is almost over, I can say that I agree. We have been given the chance to discover and develop those characteristics that make us different from our peers. It is now clear to me that we uncover our weaknesses and our strengths when we are forced to face adversity, and this university has provided challenges in all areas of our lives. Difficult coursework has allowed my colleagues and me to find out where we thrive and where we struggle academically, but for me, my experiences as a student-athlete have been both the most trying and the most revealing. My team has to pass a difficult running test each season, which highlights the fact that some of us are naturally blessed with speed and some of us are not. In preparation for this test, we find out who works hard despite their disadvantage, who complains and gives excuses, who simply relies on their natural ability to get through, and who pushes their limits even though they could pass with ease. My sport has proven to me that we are not all equipped with the same set of athletic talents, but also that our team contains leaders and followers, encouragers, competitors, and an entire array of different personality types. Whether in the academic, social, or extracurricular realm, college has given us all the chance to discover our flaws and our talents. We have all dealt with injustices and difficult struggles, and I have seen that indeed we are not equals.
If I were to choose one piece of advice to pass on, it would be this: embrace your circumstances, whatever they are. We all know that life is not always fair, but college has taught me that anybody, regardless of their health, talents, or personality, can have a positive impact on the lives of others. In fact, our community here at Wake only functions well because it is comprised of people of all different backgrounds and passions. One of my favorite quotes comes from Abraham Lincoln, who said, “Whatever you are, be a good one.” In other words, whatever gifts or abilities you possess, strive every day to use them to their full potential. I look back and realize that my most influential teammates over the past four years were not those who played in every match, but those who always worked hard and brought a positive attitude. My friend Meme, who spent the last few years of her life under unthinkable conditions, continued to be a bright spot in the lives of everybody who knew her. Meme was known for her infectious smile because she never failed to maintain an optimistic attitude, even in the face of her tragic illness. Instead of focusing on what we’re missing or complaining about our situation being unfair, we should recognize the fact that we can always contribute to the community and have a positive impact on others. The most successful and happy individuals are those who appreciate their situation and use challenges as opportunities for growth.
We are not equals, but that is the beauty of being human. Find out who you are, embrace it, and “whatever you are, be a good one.”