Sydni Williams (’17) Senior Oration, “A Collective Mark”

The Daily Deac is on vacation through next Friday, so I’ve pre-posted some content to tide you over until I can post in real time again.

Today we feature one of the top 10 Senior Orations from the Class of 2017.  This is from Sydni Williams, and it is entitled “A Collective Mark.”


As Wake Forest students, we are known to constantly feel the need to have it all together. . . all of the time. When I entered Wake, like many of us, I excelled in high school. I can recall from one of the many first-year orientation sessions, an administrator telling us, a class full of bright-eyed first-year students, that we had all been selected to be Deacons for being the top students at our previous institutions. An overwhelming majority of us held leadership positions, had successfully completed AP classes and IB programs, and held the highest GPAs in our respective high schools. We were the creme de la creme.

Being surrounded by such high achievers, I worried if I was going to sink or swim in the coming four years. I was excited to be starting a new chapter in my life, but also intimidated and anxious. As I sat in Wait Chapel for the remainder of the orientation session, a multitude of thoughts ran through my mind: Would I be able to keep up with these top students? They all sound like geniuses! Why do people keep referring to this place as Work Forest? Was there something I was missing? I had heard college was going to be hard, but exactly how hard? Most importantly, how was I going to stand apart from the sea of talent surrounding me, and how was I going to make my mark on this campus throughout the next four years?

Some of these questions were quickly answered while others took me just up until last week to answer for myself. For example, after about the third week into my first semester, I came to know the term “Work Forest” and how fitting it truly was. And college was hard yet fun at the same time. Reflecting on my time here, it is fair to say Wake challenged me in ways I did not expect. The classes I took were challenging and intellectually stimulating.

My professors were amazing in supporting me as a student and as an individual. They pushed me to dig deeper and think critically. On the other hand, many of the vital lessons I learned at Wake did not occur in the classroom. Outside of the classroom, I learned from my surrounding community of Deacs. I would have extended class discussions with my professors in their office hours, which somehow would evolve into a therapy session. I would converse with my peers on social justice initiatives in different spaces across campus. I would read the honest and beautifully written essays on Facebook, of all places, from my fellow Deacs and to get a closer look at their lives, and the ways in which they were navigating being an individual at Wake Forest.

While I wrestled with and eventually accepted this new approach to learning about life, the most important question I asked myself during that orientation session still lingered in my mind like a stain – What would be my impact on this campus?

To make an impact on someone or something, I had to do something great – this was my initial understanding. However, Wake had this strange way of making me feel like I was never doing enough. My GPA could be higher, or I could be involved in more campus activities or initiatives. When I looked around, it seemed as if all my peers were doing just one more “thing.” I became so willing to say yes to everything thrown my way in the hopes of it being something I could put under extra-circulars on my resume.

I would say “yes” to everything just to being able to say I was in involved in “x” amount of things on campus. I was preoccupied with what others were doing, and consequently I began to lose myself. I had to ask myself, “Who was I when not comparing myself to another person or group?”

It was not until I had a talk with Mrs. Darlene, faithfully known as Mrs. D, in the Intercultural Center, toward the end of my sophomore year, about my unhealthy way of operating and in that conversation everything finally started to click.  We came to a rather simplified conclusion: Stop making things about other people. Stop comparing yourself to others. What motivates you should come from a desire within. So, I decided to make a change.

Instead of looking to others to determine what I should be involved with, I began to do what I was genuinely interested in. It was amazing. I began to thoroughly enjoy my time at Wake Forest.  Shortly after came the realization of “you do not always have to have it together 100 percent of the time” and that became another pivotal lesson I learned here and one I still need to remind myself of from time to time.

To be clear, once I had these so-called epiphanies, I did not lose sight of my role as a student and I continued to perform to the best of my abilities. The realizations were more along the lines of coming to terms with the fact that there is beauty in imperfection and understanding that we are each here to walk a different path. While our paths may cross at times, we each have our own individual, customized, path. When I look at the community I have built at Wake Forest, it is a community comprised of individuals from all different backgrounds, interests, and personalities, and what a shame it would have been if we were all the same – robots, all going down the same narrow path.

Four years later, I do not know how or if I even made my mark on this campus. I am probably going to wrestle with this thought up until I walk across that stage at graduation. I do know, however, the lessons I have learned here, at Wake Forest, will forever impact me. And so to my younger, first-year self, sitting in those very seats in Wait Chapel during first-year orientation, I say to you, it is not about what grand impersonal gesture you make to leave your mark. It is not about constantly trying to have it all together 100 percent of the time. It is not about comparing yourself to the student sitting next to you. But, it is about discovering yourself. It is about making a path for yourself and staying focused on that path. It is about accepting the curves, twists, and intersections that you will inevitably encounter on that path. It is about surrounding yourself with people who motivate and push you to be the best version of yourself. It is about loving yourself. It is about loving others. It is about Pro Humanitate.

And so I think we, the Wake Forest Class of 2017, have made a collective mark on this campus. So much has happened throughout our time here at Wake Forest, some things really good and some not so good. We went from young, fresh-out-of-high-school teenagers to well educated and well rounded adults. So now, we continue to move forward on each of our paths to take on whatever the future has in store for us.








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