Ashley Peters ’08

"On Our Shoulders"

May 18, 2008

Good morning Class of 2008. Wow. This morning has been a long time coming. This moment has been a long time coming. After four years of laughter, sleepless nights, joy, anger, all-nighters, tests, disillusionment, inspiring lectures, heated debates, amazing discoveries, and fresh-cut fruit in the dining halls, we have arrived at our day of graduation. This is the moment we have spent four years working towards — the beginning of our futures. For some of us, that future means more school.

For others, it is a celebration of never, ever, ever, EVER writing another paper or entering into a classroom again. But for all us, it is the start of an adventure we are both nervously excited for and anxiously anticipating.

Nevertheless, it is on this day, as we stand at the point of achievement, that we must take a moment to grasp the fortitude of our successes. What we represent today is opportunity, hope, and the legacies of hundreds who have paved the way for the lives that we have lived and that we will live from this day forward.

However, before we can begin congratulating ourselves, I think it is best for us to go back to the beginning, to the days leading up to Scripps College. In order to fully appreciate where we are, we need to remember where we have been.

A month before coming to Scripps College, I was happily working away at the mall in Temecula, Calif., shoveling out orange chicken and fried rice to any customer who walked up to the Panda Express counter. I was contemplating the colors of my future dorm room, worrying whether my unknown future roommate would take showers on a regular basis, and generally enjoying my life as a pre-college teenager.

That was until I received a lovely letter from Professor Marc Katz, informing me that all of the first years at Scripps had summer homework before attending college… yay! Does anyone remember the little novel written by William Gibson titled… Pattern Recognition?

If you don’t remember, please let me refresh your memory of the experience you may have blocked out, by reading you the first line of that work of art: “Five hours’ New York jet lag and Cayce Pollard wakes in Camden Town to the dire and ever-circling wolves of disrupted circadian-rhythm.”

It took me almost two weeks to get past the first page. To be completely honest, reading that first page was one of the most painful experiences of my life. I truly believe that Gibson simply threw a bunch of really big, dictionary words into a novel, and inserted the requisite prepositional words like, “at, during, by, from… like.”

This should have immediately warned me that I was not prepared for what I was getting myself into.

A smarter person would have run in the opposite direction of Scripps College, but I enjoyed walking around with the book, pretending I was reading it and having people exclaim over how difficult Pattern Recognition was to read, because, let’s be completely honest here, the whole point of senior year is to brag about any and every possible thing.

After spending an entire month pretending to read the novel and only getting about halfway through, I arrived at Scripps and discovered that our first experience with the utterly elusive CORE program was going to be during First Year Orientation. So there I sat, gathered in Garrison Theater with all of the other first years, ready to prove my intelligence to any and everyone.

That was until Professor Katz came to the stage and began speaking to us about a concept I had never heard about before: post modernism. As he continued talking, I began shrinking in my seat, realizing I had no idea what was going on. I then began looking around the auditorium, sure that I would see 200 other confused expressions because no one could possibly understand the words Professor Katz had to have been making up. However, when I looked around, I saw other women nodding their heads, taking notes, and generally looking like they knew what he was talking about. So, of course, I sat up, began nodding, and grunted my approval whenever it seemed appropriate.

That is how I spent the first half of my semester until one night, while studying for the CORE midterm with a group of friends, someone threw up her hands and said she had no idea what Condorcet was trying to say. I heaved a sigh of relief, admitted I had no idea either, and 10 others joined in. While we released 8 weeks of stressful frustration in a fit of laughter, I promised myself that I would not continue pretending to know everything.

Though I, of course, went back on this promise during a few heated debates with faculty and friends, I learned the importance of speaking up, even if that meant standing out, because if I felt a certain way, there were bound to be many others who felt silenced by their fear of inadequacy.

For me, that first day of CORE represents the journey I took at Scripps, learning to trust my voice and to question a world that does not make sense, whether it be modern or post-modern.

Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, CORE was not my only experience with big words, large concepts, or seemingly improbable ideas. If anyone has ever taken a course with Professor Mark Golub, they understand what I am saying because your brain literally hurts from trying to digest the information he is talking about.

But as I continued to take classes, words began making more sense, and eventually I found that I was the person using words people didn’t understand. My concept of the world, my capacity to think outside of the box, and my ability to expand my mind is the mark of a Scripps woman. We are brilliant and indomitable; conscious and conscientious; witty and remarkable.

And we have been invested in. Not just the $200,000 for tuition, room and board, but we have all invested in each other. Every woman here should look with hope, determination and pride at the other women around her. To the left and to the right, to the front and to the back, is the world’s investment in us.

We are a chapter in the United States of America’s history. We are the inheritors of a liberty most can only dream of. In a world where the United States has only one woman in the Supreme Court and where white women make only 73 cents to a white man’s dollar, where black women make 63 cents, and Latina women make only 51 cents, 186 women will graduate from a college that taught them that the sky is the limit, that the glass ceiling is a reality, but one that can feasibly be chipped away, and that women can succeed, will succeed and have succeeded.

We are not supposed to be the same people we were when we got here 4 years ago — we are supposed to be better… we ARE better.

We came here girls demanding to be called women; we leave here women determined to be called equals.

And now we must be stewards of the opportunities we have received. WE must become stewards over our dreams, and we must become stewards over the women this college, our professors, our families, and our peers have helped us to become.

Opportunities; NOT entitlements.

We were not entitled to this education — we were not entitled to the time our professors and peers took to make sure that we understood not only the intellectual lessons of the classroom, but also the life lessons learned from our fellow students.

We are a generation of entitlement — oh haves who want more. But I challenge us, Class of 2008, to walk tall but be humble; to see our own worth and the worth of all of those we encounter, and to respect ourselves – but also to respect those who work with us, for us, and ESPECIALLY against us, because without the opinions of those we don’t agree with, we will never be challenged and therefore we will never learn or grow.

Recently, I came across a quotation from Alice Walker, the author of The Color Purple. She said, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”

What would have happened if Rosa Parks had given up her seat? Who would we be if Betty Friedan decided to continue putting up with the inequality, rather then writing The Feminine Mystique? Where would we be if Harriet Tubman believed the fight was too difficult? Whose world would this be if Ellen Browning Scripps had not believed that women deserved the right to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully?

These women are the giants whose shoulders we stand upon. They are the legacies we have inherited and they are the names we recite in a long list of the accomplishments of a women’s mind and determination.

These women refused to either give in or to give up, and they believed that apathy was a sorry excuse for inaction. They believed that when faced with inequality and oppression, working harder and finding a solution were not only better options, but they were the only options.

We attended and are now graduating from a women’s college, and have had so many opportunities provided to us because of the sacrifices of these women. We represent the hope of our families and the dreams of millions of girls who will inherit our legacies as we have inherited the legacies of the millions of women who came before us.

We will be the giants in the lives of many little girls battling societal stereotypes that teach us that 6-pack abs are more important then having an education or that fitting into a size 0 is somehow a better goal than becoming the first woman to accomplish a seemingly improbable feat.

The next time that we feel that complaining is the only option or that speaking up is too difficult, remember the strength it took to be Susan B. Anthony, Amy Tan, Harriet Tubman, Gloria Steinem, Sandra Cisneros and Rosa Parks, and remember that our fight will always be a little easier because of the fight of hundreds who came before us.

We have to hope for the children who will never have the opportunity to graduate from college, let alone from high school. We have to care even on the days when it all seems hopeless, because those are the days when the fight is most important and when giving in is the same as giving up.

We cannot fail each other — but above all else, we cannot fail ourselves.

I am positive that right now, I am speaking to a future organic chemist, a future CEO, a future neuroscientist, a future teacher, and THE future President of the United States.

That is OUR power, OUR choice… OUR responsibility. Scripps gave us the tools — it is now up to us to pave the way so that our names are recited in a list of women who made a difference in a world still determined to find fault with a woman’s curves, brilliance, and wit.

Because every moment lost is a chance never regained, and every opportunity used is a possibility to make a difference.

My name is Ashley Peters and hopefully, I will be remembered for never giving up, never giving in, and always having hope — how will they remember you? Have the audacity to hope, the courage to fight, and the strength to never accept less than you are worth.

Class of 2008 — this is our time, our chance, our shoulders, our opportunity. Be the change. Thank you.

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