When the class of 2019 gathered for the last time of their college career, the full range of commencement emotions was on display under the big white tent on Severance Green—joy, excitement, hope, sadness—as the graduates reflected on all they had accomplished and the work yet to be done.
Kavindya Thennakoon ’19 delivered the student address, dedicating it to her mother, who was unable to attend the ceremony because her application for a visa from Sri Lanka was denied. “This speech is a tribute to women like my mother—who move oceans so that we can sail on smoother seas,” Thennakoon said.
Thennakoon framed her speech around the Sri Lankan tradition of giving seven gifts during auspicious occasions. Among her gifts to the class of ’19 included permission to forget their GPAs, the freshness of “first times,” and a request to pay their Wellesley experience forward, as she promised she would to her mentor and friend Antonia DeMeo ’89, who encouraged her to apply to Wellesley.
Anita Hill, University Professor of Social Policy, Law, and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Brandeis University, spoke to the class about how she takes “the long view”—which includes both looking back, at her family’s and the country’s history, and looking forward. She said, “Well, we still have lots of work to do, and what I once thought was a sprint to equality has turned out not to be so. I no longer even think it is a marathon. I now see it as a relay, and I now see that the baton that will point the way to social justice must be passed from generation to generation. And it must continue, no matter how long it takes us to reach our goal.”
President Paula Johnson told the class that they were graduating into a world that is far different than the one she would wish for them. “For women, the obstacles are especially daunting. Unequal pay. Sexual harassment. Inadequate access to health care, including reproductive health services. These are just a few of the landmines that lie before you. For many of you, these are magnified by other identities—race, class, religion, nationality, disability, and gender, to name just a few. Yet, having watched you over these past years, one thing is crystal clear. Your strengths outweigh your vulnerabilities. You are stronger than you know,” she said.