Catherine Chiang

Hello and good evening. I am incredibly honored to be here, with the class of 2016 and many of the people who have supported us along our journey.

I always knew there was something magical about Scripps. I still remember walking through the gated archway of Balch Hall for the first time, stepping into the green quietude of a tiny courtyard, and feeling like I had just entered a world taken from the pages of a fairy tale. The lush green carpets, ivy-ornamented walls, tiny bubbling fountains tucked away in secret courtyards—there was always something new to discover, something new to fall in love with.

But of course, the magic faded quickly after my first midterm. More than that, however, I began to notice other things besides the beautiful campus and freshly baked cookies at Malott, which were less magical and more troublesome.

I noticed that this campus and the other Claremont Colleges, despite our efforts toward diversity, are still overwhelmingly white and upper-middle class. That racism, sexism, and ableism manifest in our daily lives here, even in the so-called Claremont bubble. And that while I struggled with my mental health, trying to tame my depression and anxiety so that I could still attend, learn, and perform in my classes, my friends were fighting their own battles, in silence.

And so, I fell out of love with Scripps for a while. That is, until I met the people who love Scripps the most, the ones continually fighting to make this place a better home for all of us.

In the past four years that I have been a student at Scripps, I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be part of a community, to learn and grow together. Here are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned. First, we support and care for each other. Scripps is the place where I learned that “How are you?” not only functions as a polite greeting, but as a genuine question, and that asking “How can I support you?” follows naturally. Just last semester, the Scripps community came together to raise funds for a student’s tuition, allowing them to continue their education, when financial aid fell through. Second, we are active and courageous participants dedicated to shaping our spaces at Scripps. Over the past four years, I have admired the bravery of my fellow students of color, again and again voicing the changes we must make to dismantle institutional racism, to faculty, administration, and the Board of Trustees. The work of our allies has also been instrumental in demonstrating the campus-wide need for these changes and speaks to the collaborative and supportive climate at Scripps. Third, education here is not restricted to the classroom, or from professor to student. We are always learning from each other, and that means students, staff members, and faculty share knowledge to empower each other. This past year, faculty members have listened to and learned from the concerns of students of color at Scripps and the Claremont Colleges, supporting us through their words and actions. Today, a number of amazing professors are making a powerful statement.

This is the true magic of Scripps College. Not its gardens dripping wisteria or sage green and white walls, no. The magic of Scripps is in its community. It is in the faculty members who understand when life makes it hard to turn in that paper next week. It is in the staff members who make it their personal mission to check in with you and let you know they care. It is in your fellow students, who fight to make this institution accountable to all of us. It is in your friends, whose laughter makes you feel lighter than you ever knew you could. It is in our family and community members, who are here today to celebrate our years of hard work, and to support us as we move into new spaces. Being part of the Scripps community means not only being supported, but being uplifted as we reach toward finishing our degrees, shaping our aspirations for our futures, and making our dreams of a better world a reality. At Scripps, we uplift each other. And that is magical in a world constantly pushing us down.

Here, I have met the smartest people I know. I have also met the most radical, the most dedicated, the most loving and compassionate. I don’t want to do the stereotypical graduation speech thing, where I gaze into the crowd and say, “I am confident that in this class, there is a future doctor, a future CEO, and a future president, and etc.” That being said, I am confident that in this class, and in future classes, there are change-makers. There are students dedicated to making this world more livable and more equitable, no matter how difficult this task is. And yeah, the task of change-making is really, really hard! Ask anyone who’s tried to make change happen even at Scripps—it’s slow. It takes so much energy and sacrifice. There will always be people who try to undermine you, who have lost the ability to, or simply refuse to, imagine a world without oppression and hate. But Scripps students are the most resilient and the most capable human beings I have had the pleasure of working and living with, and I am honored and humbled to graduate with the Scripps class of 2016. And if there’s a special place in hell for us, magical, radical, change-making us, then so be it.