Student Speech

Tala Nashawati ’17

Tala Nashawati ’17 delivered the student speech

Distinguished members of the Board of Trustees, President Johnson, Secretary Clinton, faculty, staff, family, friends, and my fellow graduates of the Class of 2017, ahlan bikum, welcome.

When I first set foot on Wellesley’s campus as a junior in high school, on a mission to decide where I was going to challenge myself, find myself, and change myself, something just clicked. It was one of those feelings you can’t really pinpoint in the moment—but looking back at my time here, I can say that it was a feeling of belonging. I saw intelligent, driven, extremely fashionable students walking across campus, and I wanted to be a part of it. We all had our reasons for making Wellesley our home. Some of us had long histories here. Some of us decided to apply to Wellesley on a whim. Or, in my case, because of a little hint from a high school guidance counselor who saw “slightly feminist tendencies.” Regardless of how we started, I think it’s safe to say that now, we’re all approximately the same place: supportive, confident, open-minded people who are going to make the world shake when we take our first earth-shattering steps. Wellesley has given us a lot of tools: an ability to have honest, tough dialogue; a thirst for knowledge; a passionate yearning for equality in every sense of the word.

But before we go out there with these tools, I want to talk about something else: emeralds. They are known for their beautiful, bright green color, just like us, as members of the Green Class. And, like us, emeralds are valuable, rare, and pretty durable. But there’s something else emeralds are known for: their flaws. I know it’s hard to admit, especially as Wellesley students, but we all have a lot of flaws. We are incomplete, scratched up in some places, jagged around the edges. When we started out at Wellesley, stumbling around with self-doubt at orientation, annoying our professors by going to every single office hour with uncertainty and anxiousness, waiting way too long in the cold for the Peter Pan bus because we read the wrong schedule, we were really cracked emeralds.

Over the past few years, with the help of the home that Wellesley gave us, we’ve fixed ourselves up. We weren’t afraid to point out those really glaring scratches to each other, so that we could smooth them out and make ourselves brighter. Wellesley taught us about the things we tried not to see through tough conversations and so many diverse voices. About how we can hurt other people through ignorance, the problematic things we say and do, the millions of things we have yet to learn. The room we have to grow. Think about how you started here. If you were anything like me, you hardly knew yourself. You were certainly an emerald, but a rough one, an undiscovered one, an overwhelmingly flawed one. And when you got called out, pointed in the right direction, supported and loved by your Wellesley sibs, you patched up those flaws.

Still, it’s nearly impossible to find a completely flawless emerald. Flawed emeralds are sometimes even better than flawless ones, because the flaws show authenticity and character. So, yes, we are still flawed. I know I’m still very flawed. I still get lost in the Science Center and I’m too proud to ask for directions. I procrastinate too much, evident by the fact that I saved both of my PE classes for my very last semester. I get easily flustered and loud and rude when someone disagrees with me—whether it’s about which ice cream flavor in Lulu is the best or political stances. But what really matters is the growth we experienced here, because Wellesley is a place of growth, change, dialogue, and love. It’s a stop on our path to wherever it is we’re going. Here, we make ourselves stronger and prepare for the grueling journey ahead with every weapon we need. We’re a lot tougher now than we were when we started. We are a lot kinder. We are also a lot angrier, and a lot more willing to show it, because Wellesley taught us it’s okay to be angry and frustrated and loud. It’s okay to yell about the things that hurt us and fight with fists flying for the things we know we deserve. We’ve learned to let our emotions, intellect, and strong judgement guide us where we need to go. We’ve also realized that it’s okay to skip a day of class and take a walk around Lake Waban if we’re breaking down. It’s okay to stay in for the night and just order Lemon Thai when your friends want to go out. It’s okay to just let yourself be. It’s okay to be queer, trans, an immigrant, a person of color, a faithful believer of any religion, or, like me, the daughter of two Syrian immigrants who worked and worked and worked so that I could stand on this stage.

We’ve been through a lot of tough moments at Wellesley, all the way from broken printers to devastating, heart-wrenching social realities. We have experienced loss at Wellesley. But we got through those moments together. Whether it was through demanding a welcoming cultural space in Acorns, protesting in Morton Park, marching through Boston, participating in huge, national movements to fight against the inequality Wellesley has helped us see ... or just giving each other a shoulder to cry on, one sib to another. Getting through those tough moments, supporting each other, and coming out better and brighter and greener, is what makes us really special emeralds.

Now, as you go out into the world, armed and dangerous and shimmering with your Wellesley weapons, in the words of Secretary Clinton: “Never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance in the world to pursue your dreams.” To add to her wise words, let me say, never doubt that you’re durable. You are valuable. You are rare and unique. Let yourself be flawed. Go proudly and confidently into the world with your blinding hues to show everyone who’s boss and break every glass ceiling that still remains.

Thank you.