Stories From Students
Paris Gresham, 2013 ACCESS Reed College Scholarship Recipient
2014 Scholarship Luncheon Student Keynote Speech
First off I would like to thank the Black United Fund for allowing me to be here today, I am so excited for all of you. The journey your are about to embark on will be full of ups and downs, but if your first year experience is anything like mine, it will be the time of your life and you will learn more about yourself in the short time of your freshman year than the last eighteen. I encourage all of you to push limits, break down barriers, explore the unknown, and conquer your fears.
During the start of my freshman year, I felt that I was walking into an institution that didn’t have much to offer me as a young black woman, I wasn’t sure exactly what I was there to accomplish, and was afraid to speak up for fear that because I generally wasn’t attracted to the same things as most of the student body, my intelligence would be undermined. I chose Reed not only for its academic rigor, but because I wanted to be exposed to something unfamiliar, and amongst my peers I was looked upon as an “other’.
What I realized, as my year continued, is that although I may have been an “other: I was not an outsider. I had worked hard to earn my spot at Reed and was an equal part to the rest the student body. I recognized that I was not only representing myself and my family, but my teachers and counselors that supported me in getting there, and the larger community I represent as a young African-American woman.
I had an opportunity to obtain something from this place, and apply it in my own reality. Highly influential people surrounded me, I was the next generation of an academy with alumni that were now politicians, business owners, and writers, such as Steve Jobs, and Gary Snyder. My mission became to know and understand what was behind the power and influence surrounding me, and to make it relevant to me and my community rather than assimilating to what I was told I should use it for. Although I was called a minority, my goals, ambitions, and drive became stronger than the privilege that surrounded me.
Ursula Burns the CEO and Chairman of Xerox wrote, “ I didn’t learn to be quiet when I had an opinion. The reason they knew who I was is because I told them”.
Now at the end of my freshman year I am proud to call myself a Reedie. I take honor in what being a Reedie means, an innovative thinker, an honorable member of society, well versed in various points of view, and able to look toward the future with the pride of what the past can teach us. I have been blessed to able to be a role model to other students that are experiencing the same discomfort I felt, and encouraging more students of color to push themselves past what is familiar. I know as my journey continues that the next three years will be whatever I choose make it. I know that by taking everything I can from my time at Reed, I can be something great, and an influence to my community.
As the graduating class of 2014 prepares to start their freshman year, I wish you all the best. I hope as young African-american men and women, you learn to embrace your process, speak your truth, and stay engaged. Realize that your college experience will be what you choose to make it. Find a way to get involved, maximize the opportunities presented to you, and create your own path to reach your goals. Don’t be afraid to stand out, find a way to make things relevant even when you are struggling to stay engaged. Understand that you will face different obstacles that most of your peers, talk to your families, use your resources, and enjoy every step the ride. Don’t forget to push limits, break down barriers, explore the unknown and conquer your fears.
I would like to again thank the Black United Fund, the work that is done within this organization is leading so many students to recognize their potential and make their dreams a reality. It is because of all the wonderful partners and staff of the Black United Fund that I have been able to have such an incredible experience at Reed and am able to stand here today. The Black United Fund creates that platform to give back to the community, organizations like the BUFOR are a large part in making college something that is aspired to by more and more young African- American students.
Have a great summer and an Amazing freshman year.