Text of student Emma Coleman’s Baccalaureate speech
Following is the prepared text of the 2017 Baccalaureate student reflection by Emma Coleman, a graduating senior majoring in international relations and comparative studies in race and ethnicity.
I come from a family of fighters, of those who persevere. My grandmother raised five kids while my grandfather drove a milk truck. Her maiden name, a testament to her strength, is Wolf.
A few years ago, my father survived a brain aneurysm and a month in the ICU, and emerged from it all cracking his infamous dad jokes, much to everyone’s immediate irritation. That’s just how my family is.
In junior year, a bad tackle in a rugby game landed me in the ER with a prognosis for surgery and a yearlong recovery. Even though it was obvious I could not fight this battle alone, I had trouble reaching out. Just as Stanford students are perpetually afraid that they’ll jump at the wrong time during “All Right Now,” I was afraid to ask for help. I was afraid that asking for help was an admission of weakness.
Often, we are encouraged to fight our battles alone, because we believe that is what success and strength look like. We celebrate the individual success of our peers – our Olympians, startup founders, championship pianists and published authors. It is in the entrepreneurial spirit of Stanford to recognize independent champions.
But behind each one of us are hundreds of people who have helped along our paths. Like your freshman roommate who worked with you on your psets until 3 a.m. The TA who wrote your recommendation even though you asked four hours before the deadline. The stranger who warned you that the chicken at Arrillaga was extra-dry that day. All these people offered help so generously, asking for nothing in return.
That is what makes Stanford more than a series of arches, more than kale-and-quinoa-coated cobblestones. Stanford is more than learning to call a palm tree familiar, and dreaming beyond terra cotta rooftops.
Stanford is all the acts of kindness along the way. Stanford is the friend who was there when you failed all your classes one quarter, and the RA who asked if you were OK on a day that you genuinely weren’t. Stanford is those who were there when you were lost. They helped you whether you had the courage and the strength to ask for help or not.
Stanford is all the acts of kindness along the way. … Stanford is those who were there when you were lost.
—Graduating senior Emma Coleman
When I had surgery last year, I knew I would have to learn to ask for help. When I did, the 2017 community poured themselves into my recovery. I built stronger relationships because I knew my own limits. I found a community that was generous in the extreme, who wanted to lift me and help me stand on my own feet again.
These acts of kindness from friends and strangers are what shaped our Stanford experience into what it was – and shaped us into who we are now.
Going out in the world, we must be courageous, and see asking for help not as an admission of weakness but a testament to our strength. We must ask for help when we need it, and offer it generously when we are able. We are all fighters. We have all persevered. We are here at this very ceremony because of it. But we did not get here alone. So I ask that today, you try to thank one person who has helped you rise to where you are now.
Then go out, and help others. We all need a stranger to warn us about the chicken at Arrillaga sometimes.
Class of 2017, you have helped me in more ways than I can count. You are my biggest inspirations, my strongest cheerleaders and my best friends. Congratulations, and from the bottom of my heart, thank you.