Alexis Kallen, Class of 2018, Convocation Remarks
Good afternoon, President Tessier-Lavigne, Provost Drell, Vice Provost Elam, Dean Shaw, faculty, trustees, and our most important guests: all of you, our new students and your families.
Three years ago, I sat in these same seats. Like many of you, I had always dreamed of coming to Stanford. However, I feared that I would never find my place here like everyone excitedly welcoming me in neon tights and tutus. Nestling into my dorm that first night, I wondered if people would observe my speech and movement limitations. I wondered if they would treat me differently.
Hearing people talk about their families, I reflected on how – unlike many students here – my father, my best friend, is homeless. I worried. Would my financial limitations cause me to be seen as lesser? However, my fears quickly subsided.
The awkward dining hall conversations during NSO turned into late night talks sitting around in dorm hallways eating buckets of mozzarella sticks. Wherever I turned, people were eager to talk about solving some of the world’s deepest issues, as well as those who wanted to talk about the latest episode of Gossip Girl.
Through slowly building relationships with people that I now cannot see my life without, I let go of the insecurities that were holding me back.
I embraced the possibility that Stanford could be made for me, too.
Suddenly, my disability and socioeconomic status, which had previously caused so many people to cast me aside, no longer impeded my success. The judgmental atmosphere I feared turned out to be a collaborative community where people were rising to solve global challenges and lifting others to rise with them.
My junior year, I became a first-year RA. You know, one of those people who screamed your name earlier and told you how much they love you within 10 seconds of giving you your nametag. My job involved frosh pounding on my door at 7 a.m. for help registering for classes, which turned into 4 a.m. discussions about their dreams for their futures, about finding their places at Stanford, and about navigating systems that were never made for people like them.
I proudly watched as shy first-year students that I hugged so enthusiastically on move-in day became some of the most influential people on this campus and people I care most about.
As a first-generation student, I resonated with some of their struggles. I feared coming to Stanford without any idea on how to navigate academic life. However, I soon learned that Stanford’s tight-knit community transferred to relationships with faculty as well.
During my first few days, I met Dr. Luci Herman, a law school lecturer who doubled as my RF. Our casual conversations in the lounge quickly transformed into lengthy talks on foreign policy and women’s rights. As I dove into my academic journey she guided my studies, advised me on my on-campus pursuits, and eventually Skyped me daily when I pursued independent research in Rwanda – even though she would never approve of me riding on the back of motor scooters to get around Kigali, no matter how many helmets I wore.
Three years and many nights spent laughing together later, she was the very first person I called when I won the Truman Scholarship because I wouldn’t have gotten it without her encouragement. Luci is not just faculty, she’s family. Over the next few years, your professors will help you question and build upon your ethical and political views.
You will have opportunities to travel to places like Tanzania, Guatemala, Hong Kong, and Spain alongside different faculty pursuing research. Some faculty might even allow you to sit in their office hours and rant about how you think you have reached your mid-life crisis at the ripe age of 19.
As I grew at Stanford, my tearful calls home to my father quickly faded into exciting talks on the new ideas and relationships I had formed through one-on-one discussions with faculty and friends. I found that coming to Stanford did not mean leaving my father behind. In fact, I brought him with me and he is here in the audience today. I also found that I didn’t need to hide my background. But instead, I learned to embrace the factors that make me unique.
No matter where you come from, Stanford is made for you. You will find a community here each step of the way to support and teach you.
There are times at Stanford when I felt challenged, yet it is in those moments that I learned to lean on the many communities and individual relationships that I have built here. Stanford has allowed me to empower myself and raise my voice in ways that I never thought possible and I know that it will do the same for all of you.
It is with great pleasure that I now say, welcome home, Class of 2021! We are so happy you are here!