Founders’ Day Convocation was held yesterday afternoon, and a feature part of the ceremony is the reading of three senior orations. Seniors were invited to reflect on their Wake Forest experience in the form of an essay. Ten finalists were chosen, and three were read during Founders’ Day Convocation.
Because all ten finalists had compelling things to say, the Daily Deac is privileged to reprint their senior orations. We’ll feature a couple of them a week for the next few weeks.
Today, we are featuring the oration of SheRea DelSol. Enjoy.
Spring 2010. Introduction to Theatre. August Wilson’s Fences. Troy Maxon’s mantra: “You gotta take the crookeds with the straights.” Since I arrived at Wake Forest, this mantra has manifested itself and taught me perseverance and determination. After all, I am the first in my family to attend college. As the youngest of seven children, I feel a responsibility to advance the social mobility and financial stability of our family. Oddly enough, in August 2009, when I first stepped foot on this campus, I didn’t fully realize that there were more firsts for me to experience.
I spent a semester in London and visited a number of other cities. I was a volunteer on the first Wake Forest service trip to Nicaragua. On the other hand, not all of my firsts were pleasant experiences. Wake gave me my first D on a test, my first encounter with strep throat, and — most importantly — my first realization that I was different. On St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands, where I grew up, everyone looked like me, laughed at the same jokes I did, and even spoke like me.
My hall mates noticed the “difference.” “Speak English,” they said. “What are you saying,” they asked. I came to the land of North Face jackets and Sperry Topsiders, Vera Bradley, and sundresses, and knew I did not fit in.
As a student, I can say with confidence that a homogenous culture pervades the campus. So how did I dare to be different? How did I dareto stop chemically straightening my hair and to embrace my curly, wild tendrils? How did I dare to wear bold lipsticks and vintage clothes?
When I walk on the Quad, I see girl after girl trying to be skinnier than the next. They think a longer neck, thinner arms, and smaller thighs will make them more beautiful. With two carrot sticks, a broccoli crown, and a teaspoon of hummus on a saucer plate, they swallow their insecurities. It is a world of intelligent and determined women who are often blindsided by appearances. It is a world where this curvaceous, sassy, and larger than life personality has often felt boxed in by small thinking and even smaller waistlines.
Some students complain that “Wake Forest isn’t diverse enough.” Sure, I agree that this institution, with 75% white students, needs to achieve and maintain diversity to include a wide range of perspectives and raise the level of discourse on campus. But, I would argue that the administration is not at fault. Who says your friends have to look like you? We do. We create boundaries where we should be trying to build bridges. Still, there are pockets of diversity at Wake. Though small in number, we are here. African Americans, West Indians, American Indians, Pacific Islanders, Asians, and Latinos, we are here. We embrace a number of faiths. We come from all walks of life, and we have chosen to make Wake Forest our home for four years.
So, do not make excuses for your own prejudices, get beyond them. Do not focus on what is missing at Wake Forest, appreciate what is here. We stand amongst the brightest young minds in the world; we are taught by award-winning and respected faculty who are the leaders of their disciplines; and we are loved and nurtured by staff members who care about our success as scholars and as human beings. There have been times when I was bitter, somewhat hateful about my college experiences here. Now, I can enthusiastically say that this fine university welcomes diversity. It welcomed me, a passionate young woman from a little island in the Caribbean Sea.
Of all the hours I spent in the library and all the papers I have written, that one quotation from Fences stands out, “You gotta take the crookeds with the straights.” This is what higher education is all about: taking failure along with success and sadness along with laughter. And in the process, we cannot accept homogeny. Our goal should not be to create a melting pot because we are different and should embrace our differences. Instead, we should create a mosaic. In our mosaic, newcomers will see our differences, and in our differences, they will see our similarities because together we form one community. I am Wake Forest. You are Wake Forest. We are Wake Forest. I thank you parents, friends, faculty and staff, and especially Mother So Dear for helping me trek through the Forest and proclaim from the top of Wait Chapel: I am the first, but not the last.