Today is the last weekday of Spring Break – so our empty-feeling campus will be populated with your students very soon. Hope you enjoy one last Senior Oration, this one by Alexa Erb (’16). Here is “Lessons from My Mother…So Dear.”
In 182 years, you can accrue quite a bit of wisdom. Mother So Dear has never been stingy sharing it with us. In my time at Wake Forest, I have had the immense privilege of being taught some of her very best lessons. As I get ready to leave this beloved home of mine, I’d like to thank you, Mother So Dear, for three lessons in particular. Lessons that have not only defined my time here at Wake Forest, but have transformed me and my trajectory forever.
Lesson 1: Look for the Love
Being at a Top 30 university, excellence is expected—from the institution, from the faculty, and from your peers. Those expectations can lead to amazing discoveries and a vibrant, intellectual atmosphere. They can also lead to too many all-nighters in a row, caffeine addictions, and anxiety-induced meltdowns. I have had my fair share of all of the above. But Mother So Dear, you have never stopped reminding me to look for the love in the midst of overwhelming stress. The understanding professors who extend a deadline after a tear-filled meeting, the mid-study Cookout runs with the windows down and the radio all the way up, and Miss Roz’s smiling face as she hands you your fourth cup of coffee before noon.
Since starting our Wake Forest journeys, the class of 2016 has seen a lot of heartbreak in the world. The European Refugee Crisis, the attacks in Paris, the Peshawar School Massacre, the lack of justice for individuals like Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Sandra Bland, and hundreds of mass shootings in this country alone. In the moments of despair, you urged us to keep our hope alive by noticing all of the love around us. In the pledges of solidarity tied to the trees on the quad, the flowers outside of Imam Griggs’ office, and the moments we take to hug the ones we love a little bit tighter. Love is everywhere on this campus. You’ll find it in Ms. Mary’s greeting as she swipes you into the Pit, in the music of the carillon on the first sunny day after a rainy spell, and in every roll of toilet paper lobbed through the air. You’ll find it your classrooms, your extra curriculars, your residence hall. Mother So Dear, thank you for always pointing it out when we need it most.
Lesson 2: Nobody’s Perfect
Right off the bat, this lesson seems like a no brainer. Of course nobody’s perfect, Hannah Montana taught us that in 2006. Nobody’s perfect, Mother So Dear—including you.
Racism exists here. Sexism exists here. Homophobia, Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism, classism, elitism, ableism, entitlement, drug addiction, mental health issues, sexual assault. All of those dirty words we sweep under the rug when prospective students come around or when another university gets called out in the media—those things are here.
As heartbreaking as it was to find out that these things were living in my Wake Forest, their presence has played an integral role in my life. In the midst of your imperfections, I have had the opportunity to stand up for what I believe in, to teach, to debate, to discuss, to learn, to grow.
You didn’t shield us from the tough stuff, Mother So Dear. But you didn’t teach us to just endure it either. You taught us to be bothered by injustice, even if you were the one perpetuating it. You taught us to get up and do something. Without that push, we wouldn’t have student led initiatives like Campus Kitchen, Trailblaze, Not on My Campus, or Campus Climate Town Halls. With perfection comes stagnation. With your flaws came the inspiration to strive for change.
Lesson 3: You Can’t Stay Forever
Teachers, the good ones anyways, give you all the love in the world, all the resources you need to figure out who you are and where you’re meant to be, and when it’s time, they let go.
Mother So Dear, you were there for all of my milestones—the big ones and the seemingly insignificant. You were there when I kissed my family goodbye for the first time. You watched me timidly enter into a world of uncertainty. You smiled knowingly as I was united with the people I didn’t even know my soul needed. You patiently observed each time I thought I found love and when I finally stumbled upon the real thing. You beamed with pride as I made the transition from “undecided” to “I have found my passion.” You were there for the very moment that a terrified little girl realized this was exactly where she was supposed to be. And now, Mother So Dear, it’s time for me to go.
I know that I can’t stay here forever. Soon, another class of Deacons will arrive and start writing their Wake Forest stories. It’s time for me to write the next chapter of mine. The thought of leaving this place is a scary one. A sad one. But also an exciting one. Maya Angelou writes, “You will be surprised that these years of/ Sleepless nights and months of uneasy/ Days will be rolled into/ An altering event called the/ “Good old days.” And you will not/ Be able to visit them even with an invitation/ Since that is so you must face your presence./ You are prepared/ Go out and transform your world.”
That’s a tall order. But thanks to you, Mother So Dear, I think I’m ready.