Amplify Your Voice and Make an Impact!

Welcome to the Class of 2021!

September 14, 2017

Message to the incoming class at Wheelock College in Boston. (note: Lady Gaga played at Fenway Park during move-in/orientation weekend and our VP for Student Success and Engagement suggested that she might have been on campus)


To the Members of the Class of 2021,

When I was with you at Saturday’s orientation, I must admit, I really thought that Lady Gaga was in the house. How many of you were secretly hoping that she was going to pop out from behind the theater curtain?

She didn’t, but we did have some great inspirational speakers.

I was struck by a couple of things that Lucibele Delgado, Coordinator of Student Activities and New Student Orientation, said that afternoon and I want to remind you of those and link them to advice and words of wisdom from two other folks: Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy, our community read, and Massachusetts's own Senator Elizabeth Warren.

For those of you who were not there on Saturday, let me give you a quick summary of Lucibele’s words of wisdom.

This year’s orientation theme has been the “Wheelock Way”. What, you may ask, is the Wheelock Way? It is about engaging with others and inspiring others every step of the way. We are here to make sure you have plenty of opportunities to do this: in the classroom, on our Boston campus, in the local community, and across the globe, in areas as widespread as Singapore, South Africa, and Barbados.

We also know that you want to do this great work with an even greater impact, and we are here to help you achieve your goals. We recognize that you have the potential to change the world and make it a better place and we need you to do that great work! I am here to tell you that the work that you do matters, and I know that you will inspire others and change lives. Many of you are already doing this great work and that is why you are here, and for that, I thank you. Our goal here at Wheelock is to help you amplify your impact.

Lucibele urged you to look past your comfort level, and this is often the hardest part of your work. I want to tell you a little about my first week of college. I am the oldest of four kids and I was so excited to move away to college when I was 18. The very first time I was alone in my dorm room, within thirty minutes, I was so incredibly lonely. Even though I shared a room with four other students, I had never been alone, not really, and I had never learned to be by myself and to be at peace with myself. In my first year, I learned the difference between loneliness and solitude, and I learned how to enjoy quiet time by myself as a way of taking care of myself. I read. I wrote. I took walks. I listened to music. I drew. I found myself and I found a deeper well of resilience that I was able to tap into and use to make a bigger impact, to inspire others and to change lives.

This is part of self-care. I urge you to take care of yourself so you can have a bigger impact, and there are so many ways to do this: meditation, yoga, dance, and listening to music are just a few. We at Wheelock will provide many opportunities for learning to take care of yourself. I urge you to take advantage of those opportunities and to stay engaged.

Bryan Stevenson was once in your shoes. He was an undergraduate student full of excitement and energy and nervousness. He wanted to make a difference but he had no idea how he would do that. He was filled with uncertainty. He admits to not knowing what he wanted to do with his life. What he did know is that there were some issues that that he was passionate about: poverty, racial inequality, equity, and fairness, and especially our own personal struggles to treat one another fairly.

He stresses the importance of mentoring and he speaks about meeting mentors who were leading lives that inspired him and that were people he aspired to be. I urge you to find mentors and to also see yourselves as mentors just as Bryan did. Mentoring is a process of giving and receiving. I ask you to think here and now about the best mentors you have had. I know that my high school teachers were key in getting me to college. I ask you to think about the folks who have inspired you and who helped you get where you are today.

I also ask you to reflect on those around you, those who you might not realize are watching you and aspire to be like you. Who do you mentor? Who looks up to you? Who seeks your advice? Who provides opportunities for you to be your best self?

Bryan stresses the importance of getting close, advice he learned early on from his grandmother. When we don’t get close, we lack compassion and we lack mercy. I think we can all see that as a country, as a society, we are currently struggling with this and we need to do better, much better. We all need to work together to find ways to be our best selves.

We often avoid getting close. (I know there are times when I avoid getting close.) We make lots of excuses for why we can’t get close. We say we don’t have time. We say that we already know the issues. Often we avoid seeing the pain of others and feeling helpless in the sight of that pain. We avoid facing our own broken selves, our own humanity. After reading this book and hearing about all of the folks that Bryan got close to, I have renewed my own commitment to get closer to people, particularly those in pain, those who are broken and in the most need. I urge you to join me in getting closer, really getting to know people, and in so doing, fostering compassion and mercy.

When reading Just Mercy, I couldn’t help but think of the commencement speech that Senator Elizabeth Warren delivered this spring at Wheelock. The message in her speech reinforces many of the points that Stevenson makes. She gave the Wheelock community a 3-part call to action. She urged us to find something we felt passionately about, that really moved us: criminal justice reform, domestic violence, poverty, and homelessness. She challenged us to find a cause that really speaks to us at the core of who we are, a cause that defines us.

Once we have found that core issue, the next step is to become an expert. Read up on your cause, take classes on it, and build on your knowledge. Know the facts, the real facts.

The third step was to find an organization that is doing this work and to join with them. In joining with others, we can amplify our voices and our impact.

The American Civil Liberties Union is one of those organizations. On Tuesday afternoon, Rahsan Hall, the Director of the Racial Justice Program with the ACLU of Massachusetts joined us as our convocation speaker. The ACLU is one concrete local organization that is making a substantial impact through work in the courts, the legislature and in local communities. They focus on a range of issues including ending the death penalty, immigrants’ rights, and racial justice. The ACLU represents just one way to amplify your voice and make an impact.

The Wheelock community is here to help you amplify your voice and help you make an impact.

That is the Wheelock Way.


Mary L. Churchill, Ph.D.

Vice President for Academic Affairs


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