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Dwindling Numbers and Gearing Up for Commencement

It’s finally getting to the “hot” stage in our weather year.  We have been around the mid-80s both yesterday and today, as well as sunny.  For those students who have already left campus for Post Exams/Beach Week, they must be enjoying some fine weather.

The number of students on campus is dwindling as finals come to an end.  And the number of parents and family members on campus is increasing as they come to help move out their students.  (Special thanks to the kind Daily Deac readers I chatted with in Starbucks today!)

2015 comm stageBecause Commencement is only 12 days away, we are starting to get some questions for P’15 graduating families about the weekend’s events.   Your best place to go for information about Commencement weekend is our Commencement web site: http://commencement.wfu.edu/

The schedule of activities is here: http://commencement.wfu.edu/schedule/.  Your son or daughter may have ideas about which events he/she wants to attend, so it would be a good idea for you to talk your graduate about what he/she wants to do and which events you’d attend.

Some of our students (but certainly not all) attend the Baccalaureate Ceremony on Sunday morning.  It is similar to a worship service.  Students do not sit with their parents, they march in wearing their caps and gowns and sit as a group (no mention of them by name or anything like that).  It is very important to note that space for Baccalaureate is limited, and you’ll want to take note of all the information here so you understand about availability of seats: http://commencement.wfu.edu/baccalaureate/.  When the doors open at 9:30 for families who have queued in the line to get in,  you will want to line up in advance of 9:30 for seats.  (And unfortunately I can’t tell you an exact time to get in line to guarantee you will get in.  Supply and demand for Baccalaureate vary from year to year.  I believe I have seen people in years past lining up at 8 am but it varies every year.)

Many of our students and parents go to the departmental open houses on Sunday afternoon.  Those give students a chance to visit with the faculty members in their major and introduce their families to them.

Formal graduation exercises (Commencement) is Monday morning.  More information is available here: http://commencement.wfu.edu/graduation-exercises/

The Commencement web site also has a Checklists and FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) that may be helpful: http://commencement.wfu.edu/checklists-and-faqs/

Now the informal advice from me.

– Bring some paper towels or a washcloth from your hotel (return it of course) to wipe the dew off your chairs.  Even though our Facilities team and Commencement volunteer staff try to wipe down seats, you might wish to do it yourself.

– Pay attention to the weather forecast and dress accordingly.  Consider layers that you can add or remove as you see fit.  In the sun, it can be quite hot, but if it’s a cool day it can be quite cool.

– Wear sunscreen.  3 hours outdoor is a long time and I have seen many a sunburn from people who wished they’d had sunscreen.

– Leave your fanciest shoes at home.  The grass will be wet with dew, and 10,000ish people will be treading the same paths to get to and from their seats.  Even with the amazingly lush grass we have, those paths can get muddy.  If you don’t want your most expensive, dressiest shoes to potentially be wet or muddy or grass stained, bring a different pair.

– Consider the comfort of older relatives.  My grandmother wanted very much to see me graduate, but she was very sensitive to too much heat and sun, and was not able to walk a long ways.  While we do our best to make everyone comfortable, if you have relatives for whom an outdoor event would not be good for them, consider that before you all come.  Each family needs to make the decision that is best for them.  There is a live feed of Commencement into Pugh Auditorium (in the Benson Center), which is indoors and a great option for folks who may not waish to be outside, are sun sensitive, need closer access to restrooms, etc.  Space is limited.

– Speaking of bathrooms…some of the Quad residence halls and Reynolda Hall are open, but there will be lines.   (We may also have portojohns, though I don’t know that yet).  To avoid lines, you might consider going to the Benson Center (a short walk) or Scales Fine Arts Center (closer to the Quad) if you don’t want to wait.  Because we read every student’s name, you will be able to see how long it takes as they begin and can plan your restroom break accordingly.

And for those of you who believe in a higher power, please send prayers and supplications for a mildly sunny day, 72-75 degrees, with a light breeze.  That is optimal Commencement weather.

— by Betsy Chapman

How Do You Know It’s Finals?

One word:  glasses.

I was in the ZSR Starbucks this morning and couldn’t quite put my finger on what seemed different.  And then I realized – it was so many students in glasses.  Particularly young women.  Normally you don’t see a ton of glasses on students, and it would be easy to assume either they have contacts or are still young enough to have 20-20 vision (ah, how nice that time was!)  The answer appears to be that a lot of our students regularly wear contacts and they must all be soaking their lenses and relying on the glasses instead.

So between the tired eyes, minimal makeup (women) and two day stubble (men), and the very relaxed clothing (somewhere between workout pants and tshirts that look like they had seen a lot of wear of late), our students are dressed for finals.

5 5 15 1There was not much of a line at Starbucks at 9:15 this morning, and you could find a seat downstairs as well as the comfy chairs in the loft.  I expected to see a bigger crowd, but then when I went to the other parts of ZSR I saw that the lack of bodies in Starbucks was because they were Everywhere Else.  In desks in the stacks.  At every table in the Atrium. In large reading rooms.  In the 24 hour study room.  Tons of students tucked away in every quiet nook and cranny.

My favorite glimpse of a student today was a young woman deep in study.  From my perch near Reference, I could see her through the windows of the old part of the building.  She kept making a motion that caught my eye and I couldn’t see at first what it was.  Looked like a brief wave of white.  And then as I watched her, I realized she had old school flash cards.  She’d pick one up, look at it a moment, and then do a flip to the reverse (where the answer presumably was).

I wondered what she was studying: foreign language vocabulary or verb conjugations?  Chemistry or math equations?  Dates for a history exam?  It had been ages since I’d seen anyone with flash cards, and it brought me back to my old days at Wake (back when the Card Catalogue consisted of a billion tiny drawers, not a screen on a computer).

5 5 15 2The feeling in the library was one of absolute quiet.  Yes, libraries are typically quiet, but at finals it is much more so.  The seat I’d chosen to observe the scene was not particularly close to the nearest student, yet it was quiet enough I could hear him typing on his ThinkPad.  Those keys are not loud.  It was quiet enough you could hear people turning pages in books – just little rustling papery sounds.  Occasionally you could hear a cough, or someone asking a question at Reference.  But overall, very very quiet.

5 5 15 3The ZSR has free coffee and lots of fun streamers and decorations in the Atrium.  That’s become a tradition each Finals Week.  Near Reference, some enterprising person had done this sheet of Tearable Puns (clever!)  And the student group DoRAK (Do Random Acts of Kindness) had chalked a lot of good luck messages on the sidewalk outside the main entrance.  Those tiny things can make a big difference and can give study-weary kids a momentary grin.  Well done, DoRAK!

5 5 15 4 5 5 15 5Finals continue through the 7th.  Steady on, Deacs – you’ve got this!  And special shoutout to Flashcard Girl.  I hope you get a great grade in whatever you were studying for!

— by Betsy Chapman

Reading Day

Reading Day is the day before final exams begin.  It’s one day off to prep for the finals to come.  Today I was in the center part of campus between 8:20-10:20 am and I could have counted the students I saw on one hand.  Not sure if they were all sleeping in, or all studying in one of the designated study spaces on campus, but your Deacs were not out and about first thing in the morning.

The report from ZSR was that typically on a reading day, it starts slow but students come in as the day progresses and it starts to get packed around 6 pm.  Wake the Library is starting tonight.  That takes a little bit of the pain out of finals.  There will be food at midnight (good stuff too – I am told ice cream, Biscuitville and more) – and my reliable source also tells me there will be some dogs on Sunday evening outside on the Starbucks patio.  So if your Deac would feel better having a dog to pet, tell him or her to keep an eye out Sunday night.

A few reminders for you as the year draws to a close:

– encourage your students to do Deacs Donate vs throwing everything way.  Reduce, reuse, recycle!

– there are summer storage options off campus as well as shipping services on campus

– remind your Deacs to be aware of check out policies for their residence halls

– have you sent your student a Deacon Greeting?  Send an e-card today and wish your Deac good luck on finals!

We’re thinking good thoughts for all your students as the semester ends.  Let’s do this, Deacs!  We have faith in you!

— by Betsy Chapman

Almost Finals

And you can tell it, too.  I was on campus yesterday and spent a few minutes in the library.  Lots of students.  Lots of low-maintenance clothing (think workout gear).  Lots of people with coffee and wearing their ‘hard at work’ faces.

hang 10Speaking of finals and the library, the ZSR has once again had its ‘secret decorators’ add some festive cheer to finals.  Check out the ZSR Facebook page for more.   Also, they have a final drop-in research session today from 2-6 pm: “Our final drop-in research assistance session of the semester is happening tomorrow from 2:00-6:00 pm. We’ll be camped out in Room 476, ready to assist with our laptops, our citation guides, and a buffet of refreshments! Stop by and see us.”  The ZSR is open 24 hours during finals to help students with the crunch; see hours here.

One more end-of-year related note, the Office of Sustainability has a great message about donating unwanted bikes.  This is a wonderful idea – pass it on to your Deac if he or she has outgrown having a bike on campus.

Bicycles cannot be left in the bike racks or with Residence Life & Housing over the summer.* All abandoned property, including bicycles, will be removed following commencement.**

*Students in summer school will have the chance to notify us that they will have bicycles on campus for the entire summer. All bicycles should be registered for easy identification.

**Students who are living in interim housing should move their bicycles to their interim residence hall bike racks. Any bicycles left behind at the interim housing residence hall will be removed on June 1.

At the end of the academic year, students should consider shipping, storing, or donating their bikes. If a student would like to donate his/her bike to the Office of Sustainability, student volunteers will refurbish it over the summer and it will join a fleet of bikes in a new bike-sharing program on campus. Simply email sustainability@nullwfu.edu and we will arrange for someone to pick up the bike and any other related items, like a lock or reflective gear, that the student would like to donate.

If you have any questions, please contact sustainability@nullwfu.edu.

— by Betsy Chapman

From the Forest

While many people think of March Madness in basketball terms, for admissions offices around the country, March Madness could just as easily be the final push to determine the incoming freshman class and to get the decision letters out the door.

Some of you may already have discovered the From the Forest admissions blog; I am ashamed to say I only found out about it this week.  The admissions team has been blogging about the final days of mailing letters, and today’s blog post has a letter from Martha Allman, dean of admissions, about the slate of applications they received and the difficult decisions they had to make.  It’s a good read.

The view from the forest (at least from where I sit) is that today began as a foggy day.  It’s cleared up to a degree, but is not the kind of sunny and beautiful spring day we had this time last week.  We appear to be due for some rain tomorrow and it will be cooler, but thankfully back into the 70s next week.

We’ve received a couple of questions in the Parent Programs office about families coming to visit for Easter weekend, and where are good places to eat?  As a reminder, the best first line of defense for questions is to try our Parents’ Page Q&A – we cover a lot of commonly asked questions there.  Towards the end of the section on Dining we have some links about restaurants parents and alumni have recommended.

— by Betsy Chapman

New Dean of the College Named

michele.gillespie.620x350-460x260Today was a big news day.  The new Dean of the College was named, and it was a familiar name to our campus: Michele Gillespie:

“Wake Forest University has appointed Presidential Endowed Professor of Southern History Michele Gillespie as Dean of the College, with academic oversight for the undergraduate school of arts and sciences. Gillespie will begin serving as dean July 1.

Gillespie joined the Wake Forest faculty in 1999. She was named Kahle Family Professor of History in 2003 and served as associate provost for academic initiatives from 2007-2010. In 2013, Gillespie was the first Wake Forest faculty member to be honored with an endowed Presidential Chair, which recognizes and supports faculty who excel in both academic leadership and outstanding scholarship. She also serves as the faculty representative to the Advancement Committee of the Board of Trustees”  (see the full news story.)

There have been many times when she has been a part of programs or events our office has planned, and those events have always been exceptional.  She is recognized as one who embodies the teacher-scholar ideal, and connects well with students as well as others on campus.

Full disclosure: I have known Michele for many years and she has been a trusted friend and colleague.  She helped mentor me when I was in a terrible bind professionally and did all she could to help me – even when she didn’t have to, and even though helping me didn’t benefit her in any way.  That’s the kind of person she is.  I will always be grateful to her for that – and for the example she set that it is always better to try and help someone if you can.

So what does this mean for your students exactly? The Dean of the College has oversight for the undergraduate arts and sciences programs (i.e., everything except business).  So she will be working with the academic departments in the arts, literature, humanities, social sciences, and math and natural sciences to help make our already-great programs even better.  She begins her new position on July 1st, and I know there will be many good things to come.

My kudos to the search committee, who had the unenviable job of sorting through a lot of wonderful applicants.  Happily, one of Wake Forest’s own rose to the top.

Welcome to your new role, Dean-Elect Gillespie!

 

— by Betsy Chapman

Senior Oration: Shoshanna Goldin ’15

Last but certainly not least, we come to our final Senior Oration feature.  This is from Shoshanna Goldin ’15,  and it is titled Near and Far: The Impact of a Demon Deacon

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College. The word implies mountains of textbooks and rivers of lukewarm coffee. Entering Wake Forest University, we were eager to dive headfirst into biology lab and literary analysis. Four years later, we reflect how experiences in the Forest equipped us to take on local and global challenges as a community. As we prepare to write our next chapter, I ponder three questions.

Why does Wake Forest feel like a family? How have we engaged with the Winston-Salem community? What have we learned from global experiences?

Many of us consider the Wake Forest community to be family. “Family” consists of people who help us discover who we want to be. The people we seek out to be comforted and challenged. How did we turn a collection of strangers into a support system? Conversation was key. Through conversations that stretched us far beyond our comfort zones, we formed a family.

Families argue and reconcile. The Wake Forest community is no different. From Deliberative Dialogues to Town Halls, we have challenged ourselves to find a collective vision for a stronger Wake Forest. This year, we have shown that we care about the spectrum of voices in our community. We have not stayed silent when challenging moments have arisen. Instead, we have rallied against currents of exclusivity. Together, we formed a stronger network of advocates and allies.

A family is a rooted in relationships. As the co-founder of the Interfaith Themed House, I have been inspired by cross-campus partnerships. While across the world, we see a wide variety of ideologies crashing against one another, Wake Forest strives to create a cohesive environment. Here, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian students engage in open dialogue. As we understand the stories, faiths, and dreams of those around us, we establish a safe space. By forming this family, we learn to accept difference and create community. These conversations were key to providing valuable skills that we carry forward into graduate school, a profession, and adult life.

As wide-eyed freshmen, we heard upperclassmen speak of the Wake Forest bubble. They talked about this sphere as if it were tempered glass: a permanent wall. But our class has done an incredible job at poking the bubble.

Through our collective fight against local hunger, we bridged this invisible separation between Wake Forest and Winston-Salem. Concerned about chronic childhood hunger, Wake Forest students realized that this fight would require more than a food drive. We rallied students, faculty, staff, and community members to create a unified front. Over the last four years, we have expanded Campus Kitchen’s community partners and implemented a hunger awareness program within Wake Forest’s student orientation. We initiated campus-wide collaboration for the Forsyth food backpack program and hosted Hunger University’s mobile exhibit. In the process, we have been recognized as the best Campus Kitchen in the state.

Last fall, Wake Forest hosted the statewide North Carolina Campuses against Hunger Conference. Wake Forest and Winston-Salem’s partnership inspired 175 students, researchers, and policymakers across North Carolina to focus on local hunger solutions. As the student chair of the planning committee, I was thrilled to see our collaborative work address this complex problem.

As we move forward, I want us to learn the strengths and weaknesses of the place we call home. And, if we come across another bubble—remember that it is simply waiting for someone to come along and poke right through it.

As we leave Wake Forest, our future has no borders. Class of 2015, we are entering an increasingly global workforce. As Wake Forest students, we are well-prepared. Our passion to improve the world is reflected in our collective global impact and experiences. We studied the nature of bees in France and analyzed dance styles in Brazil. We tasted life in Italy and Nepal. We lived Wake’s motto of Pro Humanitate on international service trips to Vietnam, Russia, and Rwanda. Through study abroad, we developed lasting relationships. These friendships will remind us in years to come of the commonalities and uniqueness of individuals around the world.

As we reach the close, I’d like to return to the three questions we began with. Why does Wake Forest feel like a family? How have we engaged with the Winston-Salem community? What have we learned from global experiences?

Our next mountains will not be located in the Forest (unless you plan to be a double Deac). Our challenge now is to draw on these lessons as we embark on our next chapter. Because, as Wake Forest Demon Deacons, our potential to improve our communities and world is limitless.

Thank you!

Senior Oration: Gianna Blundo ’15

Today’s Senior Oration is Humans Are Like Onions, by  Gianna Blundo ’15.  Enjoy!

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Humans are like onions: we have layers. Skin color, hair, eyes, height, weight…. each of us has our own unique external beauty. However, we often get lost in the superficial differences between us and fail to see the beauty of all life…of ourself. We are blinded by the variations of appearance and culture. We forget what we have in common: we are human. This element is both empowering and limiting. Our motto Pro Humanitate serves to remind us to unite at Wake Forest to use our common basis of humanity for the collective good. In this way we can work together toward the amelioration of the problems of today and tomorrow. Our humanity is also limiting, because it is what reminds us of our imperfections, our differences, and our boundaries as mistake-prone individuals. We are human. We are different.

When first coming to Wake Forest I struggled to find a community and find that “home-away-from-home” feeling. For many months I felt as though I was just a guest, a stranger to most of my hall, and even to myself. Since I was little I have known my appearance is that of a minority. I am Asian-American but, having been adopted by an Italian-American family, I don’t identify as Asian. I have always identified with the Italian-American culture in which I was raised.

It has come to my attention that no matter what my age, my looks are still an overpowering association. On regular occasion a stranger will ask me, “Where you are from?” I say Wilmington, North Carolina but repeatedly people say, “No, no…I mean where are you from? What country is your family from?”. This question equally confuses me because my parents were born and raised in the Unites States, “Tennessee… Virginia.” I offer. Naturally I ask myself why I feel as though I must lay out my family tree to some stranger with a simple question.  Though I was adopted as a baby from another country, that is not who I am. It is only a small part of me. You see, people look at each other too often and see, “Different.” or  “Other.”.

At Wake, I have not felt mocked by my peers as I was on the playground when I was younger for my eye and face shape. I did feel however my peers’ tendency to judge others based upon differences. Differences even as rudimentary and elementary as style, height, and brand. I became caught up in the differences between all of us too. In fact, I found myself ensnared in an old trap of negative body image and struggled with my adolescent eating disorder problems once again. I lost sight of what health really means. While re-searching for nonexistent perfection I lost sight of how wonderful difference and uniqueness are. But this is no humdrum story, because Wake Forest allowed me to grow even more so by learning to break free from the chains of surface-level judgments that tried to restrain me.

My escape from superficial delineation had much to do with academics. It was through taking an array of classes with professors who had a passion for their subject that I let go of superficial comparisons and was reminded of perspective. My sophomore year in my Intro to Buddhist Traditions class, Professor Johnston familiarized me with the concept of mindfulness, the power of now, the power of understanding suffering and the transient nature of life. That same year my Health Psychology class with Doctor Katula studied Tuesdays With Morrie, which seemed to magically line up with many notions in my Buddhism class. I was reminded that we all face battles of varying degrees and that transient things such as skin and beauty are just that: transient. We age. We change. I was further re-grounded by the loss of one of the biggest mentors of my life: my Martial Arts Sensei of 13 years. Through seeing life happen around me and taking diverse classes I discovered how much I had zoomed in on my life perspective. Bodily imperfections, racial difference…enough! I was reminded of what a tiny part I am in this large and mysteriously complex universe. I found that there are many people at Wake who see beyond our differences and embrace them in their daily lives. There are those who equally thirst for knowledge and understanding of cultures, even worlds, beyond their own. Our small Wake community let me reach out to professors and connect with those students.

To learn the value of now is something of infinite importance. To try to let go and be in the moment is cathartic. It is a skill to be able to sit with oneself in silence and be in good company. Even though we might feel restless and uncomfortable, there is value in shoving aside pestering thoughts to just …be. Breathe…. sit…and unplug. I have found that having the eyes and curiosity of a child allows our differences and our self-criticism to slip away. Too often humanity fractures itself due to alienation based upon differences in skin, height, culture and weight instead of embracing diversity. I look Asian but was adopted by Italian-Americans. I speak French, but love Indian and Vietnamese food. You cannot tell much from the outside who a person is because it tells not even where they’re from. Each of us has different types of battles, and our own stories that are still being written. If we look at the world not by the spaces that separate us but instead with the curious non-judgmental eyes of a child, then we can learn to accept differences to see the world in a fascinating new light. As Aristotle elegantly reminds us, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it”.

 

 

 

 

Senior Oration: Jim Le ’15

We’re coming down to the wire with our Senior Oration feature.  These have been wonderful glimpses into the experiences, thoughts, challenges, and dreams of some of our students.  Today we have Breaking the Formula by Jim Le ’15.

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It’s funny how sometimes stereotypes do fit. Vietnamese American families want their children to become either doctors, lawyers, or CEOs. As a first generation Vietnamese American, my family wanted me to go to either medical school, law school, or business school. Their thinking is that good grades lead to good schools, good schools to good jobs, good jobs to lots of money, and money to happiness. Seemed like a pretty straightforward formula to success. And boy do I know a thing or two about scientific formulas! My family told me that science and math were the keys to becoming a doctor. Through high school, my life orbited around the letter ‘A’. Extracurricular activities were important, not because I enjoyed every one of them, but because they built up my resume. I kept this ambitious mindset as I applied to colleges and I was excited when I got accepted to a top-30 ranked institution. Can you guess which one?

Going into college, I applied the same clear-cut formula. Go to class, pay attention, work comes first, and join any group that could help me get into medical school. Yet, by the end of my first semester, I was unhappy with what I saw in the mirror. My drive to success was tearing me apart. Although my grades were superb, neither the numbers on my transcript nor the titles on my resume reflected who I was. Wake Forest provided everything I could want in the classroom, but after the intense hours of lectures every day, I felt lost in the forest. School was draining my love of learning and I had cut out the parts of me that were not necessary for success. I became more like a robot than a person.

Returning to Wake for my spring semester, I began to question the formula. I dropped the organizations I was using only to boost my resume and took a leap of faith by going on the spring Wake Alternative Break to New Orleans. There, I shared in fellowship and the strenuous work of renovating homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. As the sweat and dust covered my face and my shoulders ached from painting the ceiling, I started to question myself, “I could be at home playing Halo 4 right now rather than suffer in this miserable humidity and heat.” Our group was invited one hot afternoon to attend a house opening ceremony for a family close to our work site. Standing in a crowd of strangers, I watched as a mother with a baby in arm and a toddler by her side cut the ceremonial red ribbon. Tears of joy streamed down her face as she took the first steps into her new home with family and friends. In that instant, I started to realize why community service was so important. Seeing the gratitude and happiness that my actions can bring to another human being was worth all the sweat and blood of volunteering. Whether or not this activity applied to getting into medical school, I did not care at the time. From that moment on I continued to volunteer on service trips and events ranging from within our own campus to New York City to Ben Tre, Vietnam.

As a science major, it is ironic that the performing arts would become my salvation. My mother has evidence of me as a toddler dancing and singing to Michael Jackson. In college, I rediscovered dance. Instead of becoming a robot, I learned to do the robot. I was popping and locking my way to class, from class, and sometimes even in class. Once I started dancing, I did not know how to stop. I could not get enough of the adrenaline rush in front of a screaming crowd nor the silliness, camaraderie, and love that I shared with my dance teams: Momentum Crew and Crunchy Beats. These groups have grown to become a part of my family at Wake. I found the same satisfaction in playing my ukulele, banjo, and guitar in a folk Americana band. Through both dance and music, I expressed myself in forms beyond words. This artistry was not a part of my four-year plan. “Amateur dancer and musician” does not improve a med school resume, but it brought out a side of me I did not know existed. For once in my life, I was not fulfilling the expectations of others, but satisfying my own aspirations.

As I grew to appreciate this part of myself, I began to wonder how my ability to moonwalk or play a riff on the banjo would help in medicine? Indeed, was becoming a doctor my own aspiration or was I fulfilling the expectations of others? Volunteering as a student EMT on the Wake Forest Emergency Response Team reminded me that the medical field was where I felt most confident and excited about helping others. This experience reaffirmed for me that good medicine heals all aspects of a human being.

To my fellow graduating seniors, please remember this observation. Wake Forest’s motto, Pro Humanitate, literally ‘for kindness’, ‘for humanity’, the motto urges us to strive to help others in any form we can. However, before we can be missionaries of Pro Humanitate we must take one important step. We must learn to accept and nurture who we are, because this awareness is the essence of everything we do. Our passions are essential to our being. To suppress our true selves is to deprive us of genuinely understanding, appreciating, and relating to each other. Only when we know who we truly are can we devote ourselves to the good of humanity.

Success in life should not be reduced to a formula. We cannot calculate every decision and result. There is no one set path. To my fellow graduating seniors, I hope that you all will remember as you are tested and judged in your future endeavors that you are worth more than your grades, or rank, or list of accomplishments. Formulas are designed for repetition and evaluation, but individuality cannot be replicated. Never lose sight of what makes you who you are, because that is what makes you beautiful, even when you are playing the banjo.

 

Snow Photos and Senior Oration by Gracie Harrington ’15

As you no doubt heard from your students, we got snow last Wednesday evening.  On Thursday morning, our intrepid and award-winning photographer, Ken Bennett, ventured out in the snow to take some pictures of campus.  They are in a terrific web site, Snow in the Forest, which I recommend to you highly.  Ken caught what appears to be some epic snowball fights, some very large snowmen, college students romping and playing with the glee of schoolchildren, and pictures of iconic buildings and places on campus.  It’s a beauty.  Enjoy.

Speaking of enjoying things, I hope you have been enjoying the Senior Orations as much as I have.  Today we hear from Senior Gracie Harrington “15, with The Closet.

— by Betsy Chapman

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When I entered Wake Forest at the age of 17, I in all honesty did not know what to expect. As a senior in college, I decided to apply to Wake Forest because it fit every aspect I was looking for in a college: Wake Forest had small class sizes and a rigorous education, while still holding a traditional “university feel.” During freshman orientation I looked across the sea of students in Wait Chapel while the President of the University spoke, and to my eyes nearly every face looked identical. While I was dressed in old jeans and a t-shirt, designer brands of J Crew, Southern Tide, and Louis Vuitton sprinkled across the audience. Between speakers, I happily introduced myself to those sitting around me, yet received unenthusiastic replies back. This was the start of a new chapter in my life, and I already did not feel part of my class.

Immediately, a deep fear of being excluded was instilled within me. I made a point to study what the girls around me were wearing, and to purchase similar apparel. I realized that both religion and greek life were popular on campus, so I consistently attended fellowship meetings, fraternity parties, and gossiped with girls about which sorority we wanted to join during rush. Within a few months, I felt satisfied that I had properly conformed to the Wake Forest culture.

However, when I went home for holiday breaks, I was reminded of the many parts of me which I was not showing at school. I loved to sing and write music, but I had not been playing the guitar or performing at college. In high school I had been passionate about civil rights, but at university I did not allow myself to be too opinionated on the topics. I even limited myself in the ways of love, for at college I was not out of the closet.

Since the 8th grade I had been questioning my orientation, and since the 8th grade I had been virtually silent about my interest in both men and women. Looking back on my experiences, I see that by not admitting my sexual orientation to myself I was lying to myself, and by lying to myself I was not supporting myself. In a world of high standards and scrutiny, it is easy to be so focused on pleasing those around us, that we forget to accept ourselves.

As the weeks of freshmen year went on, the Gracie I knew in high school wore away. I felt exhausted as I spent energy day in and day out pleasing those around me. Depression grew on me, until I was at a point so low and cared about my own happiness so little, that it became evident to myself that something in my life had to change. Yes, I had finally fit in, but I was disappearing into the crowd. I wanted to be a face people knew and I wanted to make a positive impact on those around me. In order to make a difference, my full self had to come to Wake Forest. For starters, I had to come out.

As I began to process the idea of coming out as bisexual during my sophomore year of college, I started by searching deep inside myself: what was stopping me? What were my fears? I listed in my head the different people I could put off, disappoint, or anger by coming out: my extended family, my friends, the administration, etc.. I felt as though I had everything to lose by coming out, but hiding my identity as a bisexual woman was definitely not working.

I began to prepare. I chose my location: a Shorty’s Open Mic Night. At Shorty’s I could not only come out in an open forum to a group of people for whom I cared and respected, but I could as well perform a song I had written. The song, titled “With a Wife,” was written about my fears in coming out, because many parts of the law and culture did not approve of two women being married. “With a Wife” contained the following lines in its chorus: “Strength is the key to my dreams/ I learned love ain’t as sinful as it seemed./ I’m young but please hear me out/ Love is what this world’s about./ I dreamed of the fairy tale life,/ but why can’t I have it with a wife?”

I marked my calendar; the night would be April 20th. I began inviting nearly everyone I knew: sisters in my sorority, friends from classes, professors, and President Nathan O. Hatch, someone I hardly knew at the time but had always admired.

The days grew closer to April 20th. Knots filled my stomach. I looked around, and wondered what in my life would change after I came out. Would the people with whom I had lunch still eat with me? Would my friends still be in my life? Would my world turn upside down?

The night of April 20th arrived. I went up on stage and looked into the crowd. I could feel my voice quivering as I said the following words: “I am up here today, because I need to tell you something that has been on my mind for years.” As the words came out of my mouth, I was surprised, because in the process of coming out I had only thought about my fears. I had been worried, I had been scared, but what about the countless other people at Wake Forest who were living in a closet? Perhaps by coming out, I could encourage them to do the same. “I am up here, because we need a change in this nation, a change in this state, a change in this community, and a change at Wake Forest” I exclaimed. I played my song “With a Wife,” and was shocked by the most miraculous moment thus far I have experienced in my short life: eyes of tears filled the audience, and these tears were not out of sadness, but joy.

Over the following months, people surprised me. When I came out in my sorority chapter, I received a standing ovation. Professors and students emailed me with words of support and acceptance. Even President Hatch sent me an email, thanking me for sharing my experience to the Wake Forest community. In essence, I felt supported by the majority of the Wake Forest community.

Before I came out, I thought I was a Wake Forest student for superficial reasons. What I later learned was that by doing an act for which I thought would make me an outcast, I had become more of a Demon Deacon than I had ever been before. By giving myself the opportunity to be who I was, I was given the opportunity to give back to my school through positions including a President’s Aide, a Resident Advisor, and the President of the Gay-Straight Student Alliance. I began to view Wake Forest not through its stereotypes, but through the pillars for which it was founded. I began to understand the meaning of “Pro Humanitate.”

We all live in closets. Not everyone is LGBTQ, but everyone holds something about them they are scared for others to see. I challenge you to break down the door of your closet, and show Wake Forest and the world who you really are. Let our closets hold clothes, not us.