The first things I thought about, when sitting down to write about my respect for this class and my (admittedly tumultuous) relationship with Scripps College were our orange trees. Lining the pathway to Scripps College’s first-ever dorm, with sweet smelling blossoms in the early spring, the white petals that fall on our shoulders and bright, sunshine-colored fruit hanging just in our reach, I realized: this is exactly what we all thought we were getting into. These orange trees are exactly what we were promised upon entering Scripps College.
We were also promised Wednesday teas, the desire and ability to constantly pick different colored roses. We were promised the ease of southern California, our ears curiously piqued at the notion of a sunny kind of feminism, and our cautious 18 year old hearts lead us into secret gardens across campus and we considered what it might be like to call this place home. There are certainly worse places, we thought. An understatement.
I don’t know about you all, but a few weeks into my first year here I found that the orange trees took up far less space in my life than I had imagined they would. I think I’ve come to realize that this college is deceptive in its beauty. You see the stained glass windows and the flowering courtyards, the literal ivory towers, and visitors think (as, perhaps, we all once did), this is beautiful. This is calm. This is almost untouchable, ephemeral.
And here I am, on your graduation day, telling you that those beautiful orange trees, those sweet smelling blossoms, are deceptive. Distracting, even. Let me explain.
Within weeks upon entering my first year, my relationship with Scripps College felt far less like those blossoming, sweet-smelling trees and more like the gnarled roots underneath the surface. Stretching, and intertwining, grappling for nourishment and growth. Underneath the manicured lawns, that grappling is what I felt about this home. There is a darkness, an earthiness, a breath-taking and sometimes, but not always, beautiful struggle you cannot see from the outside within the white walls of this college.
So I started looking for secrets here, and I found there were too many to count. Gardens you have to hop over walls to get to, prayers and shrines of past students hidden in closed-looking cabinets, love letters, cautious and beautiful, between two past scripps students hiding in a browsing room drawer. So many secret and delicate stories, I thought. Why are they hidden away? What else goes on underneath these grounds? With the twisting roots and the rich soil? What beauty lies there that we are not taught to see?
Not all of the secrets I found were lovely here. Some of them were very hard. Like the whispers of dearest friends, drying and crying tears as we realized that violence occurs on these campuses, just like the rest of the world. Experiencing the pain of the secrecy of that violence, as we watched the country turn towards college campuses and ask What is Happening? What is happening at colleges so that sexual violence propagates itself like the common cold?
What is happening. We whispered, as we searched in an otherwise deafening silence for the words to ask and for anyone to give us an answer.
Luckily, even in a place as pristine as Scripps College, secrets have a habit of exposing themselves. The clandestine grappling underground bursts through dry, southern California earth, demanding the recognition of new life. Slowly, but with certainty, we saw changes made in past four years. In the fall of 2015, a resource center for survivors of sexual violence at the colleges will open. Sometimes, we know there aren’t victories enough to make up for that pain, but it’s something.
There have been other victories too. We watched another struggle crack open the earth of our delicate and historically landmarked campus by taking responsibility for what it means to be a women’s college. We looked in the mirror, and we reinvented our admissions policy to create an institutionalized space for trans students in our community. We may have some work to do to make our community as accepting as our policy, but again, it’s a start.
As we watched the new growths of progress this year in our community, class of 2015, we secretly counted our apprehensions about the next world we were stepping into. We smiled for our senior portraits, finished our Dubois readings and watched Ferguson unfold on CNN, feeling numb, or burning, or both. We thought about the whiteness of ivory towers, and wondered if the tools that we had gathered here would be enough to hold the shifting and wounding truths we knew were waiting for us, we wonder whether we have what it takes to make the change we dream of.
I think, I hope, I hold a secret prayer that if we look beneath the fruit of these orange trees, if we sink down into the grasping, unsure but strong-willed roots, the irrepressible capacity for growth, that we do have what it takes. We need to.
In the basement of Toll, our oldest dorm, there is a mural. Another secret. Painted in white, in the corner of the mural, are the words, “cuida nos,” which, as I understand, means, “care for us”. Underneath the Spanish are the English words: “I will endure.” When I look this graduating class- that is what I see. The beauty of endurance. That, if anything, is what a women’s college should teach us. I know that each and everyone of us in these green robes have our own story of earthy endurance, growing roots deep into rich soil, striving and grappling underground. But we are ready to start growing upwards. Now we can complement the orange trees, and let our endurance tell a different story of beauty. Congratulations class of 2015, we will endure.