Shelli Reeves ’16
Senior Class President Address
2016 Ohio Wesleyan University Commencement Ceremony
May 8, 2016
Fellow graduates, as we gather here, looking fine and feeling even better, let us sound a note of thanks for our sponsors, the many people who helped to make this day possible. Those people who lifted us up academically, financially, emotionally, physically, and mentally.
To our president, Rock Jones, we say, thank you. To our professors, who gave us the opportunity to question ourselves, advance our thinking, and challenged us to grow, we say, thank you.
To our parents, we say thank you for investing your funds, your time, your knowledge, your prayers, and your hearts in us. We intend to pay you back, with interest!
To each other, our classmates, we say thank you for being part of the journey and for the lifelong friends we have found in each other!
To the support staff—RAs, counselors, librarians, dining hall staff, buildings and grounds staff, campus security, chaplain’s staff, and anyone else I may have forgotten—we say, thank you for your contributions!
And to our mothers—those by birth, those by adoption, and those because of strong affection—we say thank you and Happy Mother’s Day!
As we reflect on the past four years, we notice the foundations laid and structures built.
We were blessed to have seen the reopening of Merrick Hall, the renovation of Stuyvesant Hall, the construction of the first SLUplexes, and the dedication of the Simpson Querrey Fitness Center.
We have also gained the foundation of lasting relationships through the countless smiles and beautiful beginnings on the JAYwalk.
And we have built strong foundations for ourselves, including our academic preparedness for the world and our abilities to be amazing global citizens.
We appreciate all that Ohio Wesleyan has given us; Ohio Wesleyan has changed each of our lives for the better, and we are forever grateful for the uplifting and rewarding experiences we have had.
Ohio Wesleyan has also taught us that moving forward begins with reaching back.
One person we can look at as an example of this is the African American change-agent Harriet Tubman, a remarkable woman I learned more about in an independent study on Black Feminist Thought with Dr. Judylyn Ryan and who, the Treasury Department recently announced, will be featured on the newly designed $20 bill.
Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in 1820 in Dorchester County, Maryland. During her time in slavery, she was often hired out to neighboring plantations instead of working where she lived.
When the plantation owner died, Tubman was about to be sold but decided to run for freedom. Her husband and siblings did not support her escape plan, so she went on her own. She traveled more than 90 miles on foot through mud, water, and dirt roads. She had few belongings and was utterly alone.
She made it to Philadelphia in 1849, but was soon plagued by loneliness and an unsettling concern for the people she left behind.
She said, “I had crossed the line. I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land.”
Tubman then began to make the journey back into slavery, not once but 19 times, to help other enslaved people to freedom. On her journeys, she did not lose one person, meaning that everyone who started out with her made it to safety. This resulted in over 300 people, including many members of her family, becoming free.
Tubman was known as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, and she would tell people, “If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there’s shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.”
She continued the journeys with a price on her head that was the equivalent of nearly half a million dollars in today’s currency.
Later, with help of abolitionist John Brown, she freed an additional 1,000 enslaved people. “I freed a thousand slaves,” she said. “I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”
Even after she stopped making the journeys, she advocated for equal rights for women and African American people for the rest of her life.
Harriet Tubman was a change-maker. She is an example of the commitment to giving and sacrifice we must make to ensure change. Harriet Tubman moved history forward by reaching back helping others who had not yet tasted freedom.
Ohio Wesleyan has prepared us to move forward while always reaching back. So, as we advance in our professional and personal lives toward careers, marriage, and parenthood, let us also advance in our commitment and continuing efforts to make social change.
We must reach back, ensuring that we empower others and help them to find ways to impact the world.
We must also build new foundations similar to those that generations of alumni have built for us. These foundations may be financial or simply the expenditure of our time.
It is important to make the trip back to campus; to strengthen our OWU networks full of students, friends, and other alumni; to stay active and engaged; and to continue the good fight so we can collectively move forward.
As Harriet Tubman said, “Keep going!” This means that whenever we feel like we are struggling, we must keep going to make a difference in the lives of others. If we feel as if we are alone, we must keep going and making a way for those who come after us.
If we hear the occasional negative comments, we must keep going and remember those who have come before us. If we feel like we cannot go on, we must keep going and keep being change-agents. Most importantly, keep being ourselves!
We will forever be a part of the amazing Ohio Wesleyan Class of 2016!
Now let’s take that next step and continue to reach back so that, together, we can move our world forward.