Scripps College Commencement 2019

Kira Knowles Gabriel ’19

May 24, 2019

The video of this speech is available here.

Something happened in college. I know what you think I’m going to say, which is, I grew! I became analytical! but, no, not that. I became a crier. It’s true! I didn’t really cry at things in high school, only really about things that happened to me.

But then… I saw the craziest sunset, over Balch Auditorium. And… I watched my friend perform in her a capella group. And I listened to post-grad plans, from getting a PhD to intentionally getting lost. And I watched my friend present her thesis. And I just couldn’t help myself! I think I became a “crier” because such moving things have happened here.

I think going to Scripps is hard. For a lot of reasons. I was once told that Scripps used to produce women who became expensive wives, who went on to manage philanthropies. Entrenched in that idea, of course, is whiteness, wealth, and heterosexuality. Those core tenants are still a part of our school, and still a part of how the world views us. It’s troubling, to say the least, that our Career Center and Store are in the center of Seal Court, whereas SCORE and the OSE are tucked away, demonstrating our institutional priorities of production over community. It’s infuriating every time someone calls us “the girls’ school;” it erases the presence of our incredible trans and nonbinary students, and ignores the academic rigor of our college. That part of going to a historically women’s college is especially hard here, in the middle of other co-ed colleges. We are reminded of that perception constantly. But it comes from within, too. It just sucks that if any of us went on a tour of Scripps just two years ago, we saw the pool and not an academic building because we were selling ourselves as a resort and not as an academic institution.

And that’s what the history of Scripps has been for so long. Even looking around at our ever-Instagrammable campus, this was constructed on the ideas that women needed a beautiful space to learn. And it’s enraging, because we are being told, over and over again, that we are weaker, gentler, lesser. I firmly believe that every graduate here has been made to feel lesser for going to this school, or even for who they are.

Let me make one thing clear: That perception is not about this college. Our fellow consortium members love to remind us about our admission rate, or about how big their endowments are. It’s not about those rankings, which are inherently sexist and racist. It’s about us. It’s about students who choose this type of space. It’s about that person in your Writing 50 class who points out a symbol in a short story not even the professor noticed. It’s about the RAs and the tour guides striking for crucial access to mental health resources and respect for our marginalized students. Even in writing this speech, I received feedback from students of color, trans and gender non-conforming students who corrected my terminology and my ideas, who continue to work to be seen and be heard even on their graduation day. I’m deeply grateful for those students. The students who not only don’t ask for permission, they don’t want it. The people here who demand to be seen and be heard. Those are the people every oppressive system wants to be small, and be quiet. It’s not about the school. It’s about the people who go to this school. It’s about us.

I’m a transfer student. I transferred schools because I wanted a space filled with students who would push me, every day, to be a better person. And I got a little more than I bargained for when I came to Scripps. I didn’t expect just how difficult it would be being around amazing people all the time. I think all of us can think of a dear friend who is better than us at… everything. From essays to eyeliner to perseverance… they’re sitting in the audience! And at first, that was really… unchill. My immediate reaction was to be jealous, or catty, or mean, which of course just made me unhappy and a worse person. And of course at Scripps, everyone is like that, there are so many human beings around you who are so amazing, your only option is to learn from them. There’s no other option, otherwise you’ll be sad all the time, and every time you meet someone new. And you just… you have to learn to love learning from them.

So being around the people who applied to and chose Scripps, students who chose this college’s difficult combination of identities, you’re forced into a population of students who are outspoken, and passionate, and smart, and interesting. And they blow you away.

You see conversations leave the classroom, led by marginalized students who, to quote feedback I got, “are constantly harmed by this institution yet improve it year after year.” Like, the speaker series hosted by the Disability, Illness, and Difference Alliance.  You see it in the actions our peers have taken. From starting the Scripps Scrapps resale program and pushing for a Carbon Commitment to rallying to end Scripps’ complicity in the prison industrial complex, the students here are making changes to this institution. You see students create changes to the drinking policies, and try to find ways to make every club and activity accessible and open to all, including literal accessibility in the dorms. You see it Watu Weusi not only changing their name to include all gender identities, but also standing in solidarity against all racist transphobia on these campuses. You see it in Cafe con Leche and AASU hosting countless events, creating communities and taking up space on this campus. You see outdoor clubs taking away the costs of going outside. You go to the Motley and get coffee and funding for anything that furthers the mission of intersectional feminism. You even see students emptying the compost bins in the kitchens. These are changes, for the better. What you have done here, from calling out subtle racism from your friend to instituting institutional change to even existing here as a person of color, as queer, as disabled, as first gen, what you have done here, is amazing.

So… if our peers, and our friends, are as incredible as we know they are, how could all this shame that is put on us as students of a historically women’s college, as the type of person who would choose Scripps, how could it stick? You look at your best friends, and… they’re surprising and kind and smart and funny and so weird and… perfect. And how dare anyone try to make them feel lesser?

And I think that’s what makes going here so difficult. Because you can’t just accept what the rest of the world says or believes about you, because you have so much evidence to the contrary. You can’t accept other people, institutions, and systems trying to make you feel small because your peers at Scripps have encouraged you to confidently take up space in this world — and there’s no way you could squish yourself back to being small, and being lesser. Our existence, and our joy about our own and our friends’ existence, is flipping off all the racist and sexist and classist and homophobic systems that tell us to be small.

The first thing you learn at Scripps is to not even bother trying to compete with your peers, because  you just won’t be able to. And so you embrace that lack of competition, and start to learn from and collaborate with your peers. And maybe more importantly, you turn inward, and find your own value, in order to actually appreciate the people around you. And when that happens, something changes. You  begin to see what is, and stop seeing the outside judgements of Scripps and your peers and your friends and yourself.

So the Scripps marketing department will have you believe that we are a resort, quite a few 5C alums think that we are about to get our MRS degrees, and the other schools will tell you that we are the “girls school.” Again, it’s not about this school. It’s about people like us. They want us to feel small. But within each other, we just find… joy. And inspiration. And awe. And passion.

This school, and this experience, is just a microcosm of the rest of our lives. Whatever any of our identities are, people will have us believe that we are lesser. But in these formative years at Scripps we’ve had quite a bit of practice pushing back and rejecting that conclusion. To exist in joy and in awe of one another is a rebellion. Think of your friends, and think of yourself, and, look at where you are, and you know, you don’t need me to tell you, that you are amazing. Truly, truly incredible folks who have endured and thrived here.

And if you can do it at Scripps, you can do it anywhere. No part of attending this institution makes it easy. Except dining, grounds, and maintenance.

So, I’ve been crying, as I’ve mentioned every moment that my friends have blown me away. A dear friend of mine, Natalie Lillie, said once, “You can be strong and gentle at the same time.” And that’s what you learn at Scripps. I think that’s why I’ve become a crier. It’s a show of vulnerability and pride at my friends’ strength, which I could only express so genuinely if I believed I am as strong as they are. At this school, you learn to be strong, and smart, and complicated, and you learn to find elation in your peers and in their success. Being gentle with ourselves and the people we love in the face of oppression is an incredible display of strength. You become gentle and strong.

I am fiercely proud that I went to Scripps, and fiercely proud that I walk today amongst all of you. Our peers, and our professors, and the way we’ve had to push back against and defend this institution has given us, I think, the ability to think clearly and independently, about ourselves and about the world around us, and the ability to live, shoving back against every system that says we are, or anyone else, is lesser, confidently, courageously, and hopefully, and, I would add, strongly, gently, and joyously.