Prepared remarks of Michael Tubbs, Class of 2012, at Opening Convocation Ceremony on Sept. 20, 2011
Michael Tubbs talks about his journey as a first-generation college student.
Thank you, Vice Provost Elam, for the kind introduction. And good evening, President Hennessy, Provost Etchemendy, faculty, trustees and our guests of honor: the families of and the students of the newest members of the Stanford family.
I have never been to freshman convocation. Three years ago, I purposely had my family leave our house in Stockton, California – only one hour and 30 minutes away – late so that I would miss all the welcome to Stanford festivities, as I was scared.
Don't get me wrong; I was excited for college.
This excitement, however, was tempered by a sense of fear and foreboding as to whether I would belong at a place like Stanford University.
Before I graduated from high school, teachers were already predicting that I would fail at Stanford, and the long summer gave me too much time to think about how I was not "Stanford."
I was not Stanford because I was born to a teenaged mother and an incarcerated father, I was not Stanford because I did not score a perfect 2400 on my SAT, I was not Stanford because I went to a large, failing urban high school, I was not Stanford because I came from a community that most would consider "the hood."
In short, I missed my freshman convocation because I was certain that I would not belong at Stanford.
This feeling of not belonging and questioning my place at this university, continued throughout New Student Orientation and until the very first day of class.
As I walked through the Quad on a beautiful California morning and passed Memorial Church, I began to think about the brilliance of my peers and the faculty that was sure to surround me in the classroom and the feelings of displacement and inferiority only intensified.
Before I walked into the classroom, however, I was hit with another thought. I was reminded of the biblical story I had been taught growing up, that as Joshua prepared to lead the Hebrews into the Promise Land against giants, God told him that "everywhere your feet trod I have given to you."
I took solace in that thought, that everywhere that I walked on this campus was mine, that it had been given to me to use, to grow and explore by virtue of my admission into Stanford. I internalized that sense of belonging and ownership and the thoughts of inferiority left and were replaced by an appetite to use and utilize all of Stanford's resources.
It was this thought, this belief that "everywhere your feet tread at Stanford is yours," that explains why I stand before you today, a senior who has made it his mission to use all of Stanford's resources – from opportunities to faculty and even fellow students.
This thought led me to apply to the Stanford in Washington program.
Additionally, it was this same belief that drove me to strike up a conversation with Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama, after she spoke about the importance of public service.
The very same freshman who was afraid to even attend convocation a year later had the courage to strike up a conversation with this prominent Stanford alum, a conversation that ended up with an internship with her in the White House.
As I stand before you today, I almost laugh at the fact that I didn't believe that I would belong at a place like Stanford. My three years have illustrated to me that there is no typical Stanford, that part of the greatness of Stanford is that it is urban and rural, incoming freshmen and transfer students, rich and poor.
My story is not singular, but is one in a chorus of stories of students here that echo the truth: Everywhere your feet walk – to the Dish, to your dorm, to your classroom, to Meyer Library or to your student group meetings – has been given to you to do what you will with it.
Everywhere your feet walk on this campus is yours. Own it. You belong here. The institution needs you, your knowledge, your passions and your skills. The opportunities and resources the university provides are for you – there's a world out there that needs you to use them!
Feelings of inferiority and not belonging are normal, but know this: They are false.
This is your university. Everywhere your feet walk has been given to you. How will you use them? What will your legacy be?
Although I missed my freshman convocation, I consider it an honor to be here for yours.