Vivian Wei-Zhou Zhang

Dear friends, family, and family of friends:
Today, we’re celebrating this moment in our journeys, and we’re celebrating the journeys that have brought us to this moment. It’s my honor to share with you some thoughts from the road.Our first semester here, Scripps publicly launched its “We Want More” fundraising campaign. I remember the black banners that went up proudly declaring “We Want More:” More Knowledge, More Truth, More Imagination, More Justice, More Opportunity. I remember the big whiteboard where some students added to that list: more bread pudding, more Greek yogurt, and more air conditioning.But next to those, other students wrote things like mental health resources, students of color, and financial aid. Some of these were the seniors, juniors, and sophomores we looked up to. They, along with faculty and staff, helped us find our voice to ask questions like, “What does it mean to want more, and for whom?”In our years here, we’ve learned to ask questions and to fight for where they lead. Sometimes in the open and out loud, like when we marched through the campuses on a Thursday afternoon in junior year fall. I will never forget what our voices sounded like, declaring to the world but also to each otherand to ourselves, that silence is violence. That Black lives matter.Sometimes the fight was in the quiet work of meetings in Balch and SCORE. In hours spent drafting and negotiating and imagining, and re-drafting and re-negotiating and re-imagining. For those of you who have spent your years here devoted to this unseen fight, the deepest admiration and appreciation are your due.The fight was also in our efforts to claim an education here. The 8 a.m. treks to class (which make you question how on earth you got through high school), the 11:59 p.m. paper submissions, the 4 p.m. tea breaks to keep yourself going through an afternoonseminar. And most recently, the efforts to channel this liberal arts education into a meaningful “next step.”The four years we have spent here wanting and fighting and striving, those have shaped who we are. That’s what I’m here to talk about today, really—not just the things that we want, but the things that we are.Who are we, the class of 2017? We are more.We are more than who we were when we started here. We are all the people we’ve met along the way, whether Scripps was our first time meeting people like us, or our first time meeting people different from us. We are the radiant laughter of these friends, our late night food adventures, and our chance encounters in the patchwork shade of Seal Court.
Beyond that, we are more than the [270] students you see around you and before you. We are—we hold with us—the communities that have made this moment possible. We are the tender and strong love of our families, whom we called in roommate-less stairwells (though I always forgot that people actually walk through stairways). We are the generous wisdom of our professors and mentors, who have kept their office doors wide open to us. We are the ever-present encouragement of our Dining Hall and Maintenance staff, who have unfailingly cared for us like their own family. Maria and Claudia, thank you for sharing your home-cooked food and pictures of babies with me. You have always been some of my favorite people to run into at Scripps. I know that I’m far from the only one.We are more than the things we have achieved, though today is about celebrating those achievements. We are the falling down and helping each other up along the way. We are the outrage we have protested in, side by side. We are the grief that we have carried together. Our first semester, we held candles in memory of Dean Bekki Lee,whom most of us hardly knew. In this our final semester, we held candles again for Tatissa Zunguze, whom many of us admired deeply and loved fiercely.Tatissa was supposed to graduate a year from now. She and I joked once that we would both get the loudest applause at our Commencement ceremonies, because our names each came last in alphabetical order. Though she won’t get to hear that applause, the applause that we will hear ringing in our ears today is ringing for her too.I know that isn’t enough. I’m learning that sometimes all the “more” that is within us, as individuals and as a community, it isn’t enough to make up for all the loss, pain, and injustice around us. But to quote one of my readings this semester (because sometimes they really do prove useful): “If I lose my direction, I have to look for the North Star, and I go to the north. This does not mean I expect to arrive at the North Star. I just want to go in that direction.”Dear fellow graduates, there will always be more distance to go. There will always be more chains to lose, more gardens to plant, more stories to hearand honor. There will always be further north. But I hope we have seen a clearer glimpse of the North Star in our years here. I hope we have found in each other companions to travel the journey with. And with that, on we go, into the great big “more.”On we go, reaching out to the “more” beyond Scripps’s wisteria-clad walls, as that “more” reaches out to us. It may not welcome us, it may not welcome our questions, it may not welcome our fight, but we will question, we will fight, and through it all we will love. We will do so with every “confident, courageous, and hopeful” fiber of our beings. Because that is who we are.Class of 2017, here’s to our journeys. There is so much more to go.