The room bubbled over with sounds of seniors (seniors!) chatting and drinking champagne as we waited for the announcement of the night: the speaker at the 135th commencement exercises at Wellesley College sending forth the class of 2013 into the world.
"Valerie Jarrett!" our class presidents announced.
I first learned her name during the 2008 presidential campaign, when I was an awkward high school senior taking AP US Government, learning about the Supreme Court and campaign finance reform and waiting to hear back from colleges.
After Obama won, I hoarded the New York Times magazine piece on his team. I cut out the portrait of Susan Rice and pinned it on my vision board alongside Nelson Mandela quotes and newspaper articles about Tuscan travel. And I read about Valerie Jarrett, whose name I filed away in the mental cabinet labeled "Obama-related."
Fast forward about four years.
Valerie Jarrett came to Washington, D.C., with the Obamas. She serves as the chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls. As a Senior Advisor to the President, she was a key player in the White House during in the major events of the term: the Lily Ledbetter Act, the Haitian earthquake, the Affordable Care Act, the Deepwater Horizon debacle, the Arizona racial profiling debate, the Tucson shooting, the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell. She supported the Obamas during this second political campaign, which (to us, anyway) felt like a badly written satire of A Neverending Story.
And I came to Wellesley. The major events of the last four years -- the major events of college -- were major in that they were minor, miniature, delicate, complete. I discovered I loved poetry and political philosophy. I found out how fast I could write eight pages of poetic analysis (two hours, if I really had to). I celebrated birthdays. I visited museums. I started drinking coffee (often, bold, with soy milk.) I tried going vegan. I became a fangirl of several wonderful professors. I studied abroad. I came back and I realize I had come home.
Most importantly, I met my friends. They come from Beijing and Portland, Los Angeles and Durban, Seoul and Columbus, Boston and Richmond and New York and West Virginia and Maine. In our minor events and our major accomplishments, we have shaped each other. We shaped each other with our vocabulary and discourse; with our complaints and disasters and victories; with the 2AM epiphanies accompanied by prosecco and Ramen; with our (often newly acquired) acquaintance with grief. Together, as wiser heads helped us in our stumbling journey through problem sets and break-ups and parties and conferences and protests, we developed our character.
What is our character?
Back in 2007-2008, then-Senator Obama's slogan was the progressive, optimistic, hopeful "Yes We Can." At Wellesley, we have a different saying: "Women who will make a difference in the world," abbreviated to "Women who will." It is our unofficial motto, our quiet chant, our responsibility and our pride. The most prominent example of this belief is Hillary Clinton '69, a woman who does (and who might...)
Valerie Jarrett is a woman who does. She plays a significant public role in shaping the American story. She is an appropriate, and exciting, choice for a commencement speaker because of the experience and wisdom she can share with the class of 2013. We don't know what will come in the next four years, nor the next forty; there is no fast forward. But we have been shaped into people who desire to make a difference on this beloved and catastrophe-prone planet, whenever and wherever and however we can.
We are women who will.