Student Speech

Student speaker Charlize Chen hold a giant penny aloft at the podium

Charlize Chen ’23 delivered the student speech

Members of the board of trustees, President Johnson, distinguished guest Secretary Benson, faculty, staff, families, friends, and fellow members of the yellow class of 2023: 

It is my great honor to be here with you today, celebrating this incredible milestone in our lives. But before we look ahead into the future, I want to look back to when we were officially indoctrinated as Wellesley College students. 

It was the first day of orientation in the middle of the night, and suddenly, our orientation leaders told us all to walk to Lake Waban. Once we arrived, each of us was handed a penny. 

Then, in the darkness, someone suddenly shouted, “Jump into the lake!” That message was amplified, dozens of times. 

It was to our understanding that we would jump into the lake, holding the penny, which we would release and retrieve. The orientation leaders warned us that all those who didn’t find their coin in the water after letting go would never graduate. The dorm chants grew louder and louder, the noise enveloping us. It felt like something out of a fever dream. As we gathered in groups, the only source of light was our cell phones. 

I could hear the splash of freshmen jumping into the freezing September waters, their bodies smacking the surface. I stood there, hesitant, the penny in my hand. Overwhelmed by the noise, I loosened my grip. I felt the coin slip between my fingers onto the coarse grass, lost to the soil underneath me. From that day on, I never looked at a penny the same way again. 

And to the creator of that myth that losing your penny means no graduation, I’ll have you know that I’m there, almost there. 

Luckily, a friend handed me the missing penny after orientation. [Takes out penny.] Just kidding—I found a spare in my wallet. 

I realized that the coin, with its two sides, represents two messages, and I want to leave those—but not the penny—with you today. 

Heads: Persist in the face of failure. 

No matter how carefully we plan, things can and will go wrong. We will experience setbacks, disappointments, and failures. When we fail, our first instinct is often to beat ourselves up and dwell on what we did wrong. But the truth is, failure is one of the best teachers we can have. 

It shows us where we need to improve, what mistakes we should avoid in the future, and what we are capable of. Learn from your mistakes, like taking a math class at 7:35 a.m., from which I learned that no matter how many coffees I drink, that will not make it better. So don’t be afraid to try again, to jump into that lake that you can’t see the bottom of, to take risks, and to keep pursuing your goals even when the going gets tough. 

Tails: Have empathy for others, even if they may seem very different from you. 

As soon-to-be graduates of Wellesley College, we have lived through a historic moment. The COVID-19 pandemic upended our lives in ways that we could never have imagined. It forced us to confront our vulnerabilities, our inequalities, and our interdependence. But it also showed us the power of resilience, compassion, and innovation. We adapted to remote learning, navigated ever-changing guidelines and restrictions, and sacrificed many of the traditional experiences of college life. 

Yet, we found new ways to engage with our communities, support one another, and pursue our passions. We showed a deep commitment to making the world a better place, even in the face of immense uncertainty and upheaval. If this experience taught us anything, it was to take the time to listen to different perspectives, to put ourselves in others’ shoes, and to seek common ground. 

Bearing those two messages in mind, I’m often reminded of our pennies on that fateful night, somewhere among all the algae and seaweed, or in my case, stuck somewhere in the weeds. Regardless of who their original owners are, coins are not without their flaws and their surprises. But we know now, it’s these imperfections, these dents, these scratches, these rust spots, these setbacks, and this adversity that make us who we are. 

As we go forth from this place, I want to challenge all of us to use our skills, our knowledge, and our passions to make a positive difference in the world. Take the lessons that we have learned at Wellesley and apply them to the challenges that lie ahead, the endless lakes that we will have to jump into to get through life, and the treasures that we will find along the way. 

To the yellow class of 2023, congratulations! We have worked hard and we have much to be proud of. The world is waiting for us, and I have no doubt that we will rise to the challenge. 

Are you ready now? Three, two, one: JUMP! 

Thank you.