Prepared remarks of Jessica Anderson, Class of 2014, at Opening Convocation Ceremony on Sept. 17, 2013
[Sing:] Be yourself, play it loud. Raise your voice, shout it out.
I remember where I sat during Convocation my freshman year. I was in the very last row in the very last seat in my section. I slipped out of the ceremony as soon as it finished and wandered around campus, thinking to myself how wonderful it would feel to be the student speaker one day. How fulfilling it would be to know that this prestigious institution recognized me as someone who was worthy to speak on its behalf. And then I remember the thought that came after. My singing was my most memorable trait in high school. At best, I could possibly sing the school anthem.
Before coming to Stanford, singing was one of the primary things I had been known for. I had six years of experience, four musicals under my belt, and a diverse repertoire to support me. Singing was my voice; it was how I made my mark in my school.
When I came to Stanford, I assumed that singing would be the only way I could forge an identity for myself here; it would help me belong. But belonging is hard when you think that your presence is unjustified. I felt like my class, race, and religion alienated me from the sea of faces around me. So I sang to feel connected to the Stanford community.
I sang day in and day out. I found events, auditioned for groups, sang down the Quad and in White Plaza. I sang until all I knew was singing. I sang as if it was all I was, but that was not enough.
One day, I heard a Stanford admissions officer tell a group of students, "Let me reassure you all of something. You deserve to be here. Not only do we believe that we have something to offer you, but we also know that you have something extraordinary to offer us. Let's discover what all those things are together." What all those things are?
What other extraordinary things had I left to discover? What other voices could I have on this campus? How can those other voices be heard and explored?
This is what prompted me to do the Stanford in Washington Program, where I took my favorite class thus far. Two practitioners from the Department of Education taught a course on education policy that revealed how I could use strong policies in education reform to strengthen the academic experiences and voices of others. That class showed me my own passion for education reform and encouraged me to explore other opportunities to engage in reform on and off campus.
I began tutoring students through the Haas Center for Public Service and interned at the Children's Defense Fund, where I not only advocated for education reform but also registered voters for the 2012 election. I began to find ways to use my voice to raise other voices. And all the while, I continued singing when and how I wanted to. I began to embrace all of my voices.
Maybe your story isn't about singing. Maybe you were a member of the robotics club, a volunteer for a community service organization, school president or school mascot. The questions still remain: What are all of your voices? How will you use them? How will you explore the voices that have been silenced before? And how will you discover the ones you never knew existed?
You have a world of new experiences ahead; a world of opportunities awaits you. Do not miss them, believing that your voice is not strong enough, is not sure enough, is not like everyone else's. Your voice is as powerful as the next, and it has a place here – on the Mock Trial team, in the Spoken Word Collective, on the football field, or in the Mechanical Engineering Department. You have the right to use your voice – every voice within you. So create your stages. Find your mics. Raise your voices.