Laura Kuhl ‘03 spoke to the 2016 graduates about taking the benefits of their Montrose education into a world in which they stand tall, speak and make a difference. The speech has been reprinted with Ms Kuhl’s permission.
It’s a tremendous honor to be back to celebrate with you, Class of 2016. Graduation is a time to celebrate — to celebrate the completion of a momentous milestone in each of your journeys, and to celebrate all that you will do next. But graduation is also a time of transition, and transitions can be frightening. Today you will begin the journey of setting out and sharing who you are in new places and with new people. And so, today, I want to speak to you about fear and power and light, and being true to yourself.
A lot at Montrose has changed since I graduated. There are many more of you than the thirteen of us, but many things remain the same. As a class, we just spent the past two weeks reflecting on what was said about us at our graduation and how far each one of us has come in thirteen years. I was moved by how we’ve grown into powerful women, exceeding our wildest imaginations, but also by how well those words still capture who we are. As much as you will grow and change, so much of what you cherish about each other will always remain.
I wanted to begin by sharing the same words I shared with my class at our graduation- words that continue to ring true to me, and guide me, as I strive to share my light in the world.
“Our deepest fear
Is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear
Is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light
Not our darkness
That most frightens us.
We ask ourselves,
Who am I to be brilliant,
Gorgeous, talented, fabulous.
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.
There is nothing enlightening about shrinking
So that other people
Won’t feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.
It is not just in some of us;
It’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people
Permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.”
Montrose is a place that embraces Marianne Williamson’s words. Making manifest the glory of God that is within us cloaks every day’s activities, from the mundane to the profound at Montrose. Through the wisdom and vision of parents and teachers who have seen your lights, and believed in your capacities and your promise, you have blossomed into powerful young women. Under their encouragement and guidance, you have discovered passions and engaged fully with them; you have stepped out of your comfort zone and taken risks; you have embraced pain and sorrow with grace; you have truly been a great light.
At Montrose, surrounded by supportive women, I rarely thought of how my identity as a woman shaped my experience. Now, I am struck by how Williamson’s words speak to one of the greatest challenges we, as women, face in a world that can be threatened by our achievements and our confidence. Too often the world tells us to step back to make space for others, that being powerful isn’t feminine, that we will intimidate others if we shine too brightly. Don’t let these messages and others’ perceptions of you (or your own) discourage you or limit what you might want to do. I credit Montrose for helping give me the confidence to speak boldly for what I know to be true even when it is intimidating. I want to encourage you to embrace your power, your own unique light, as your venture out into the world, because this world needs all the light we can offer.
Montrose’s motto: women of faith, character and vision, will ring true for each of you in different ways at different times in your life, but I am sure the confidence you have gained at Montrose: the knowledge of yourself, your values, your faith, will always stay with you. My class had an additional interpretation of the motto: women of finesse, charisma and va-va-voom. While it may have come out of a senior prank, va-va-voom captures something else I cherish about Montrose: the joy for life and unself-conscious silly enthusiasm that infects a room when we are together. My Montrose friends have always helped me remember that our lights sometimes shine brightest when we’re laughing. So as you leave, keep the Montrose motto of faith, character, vision and va-va- voom in your heart.
As you move beyond Montrose, maintain belief in your light, and find ways to surround yourself with people that will continue to nurture you. Being powerful doesn’t mean you can’t be vulnerable; in fact it is the only way to grow. My Montrose friends are the ones who knew me before I knew who I wanted to become, and who I can trust to continue to be there for me even at my most vulnerable. Know that the bonds of friendship that you have now can strengthen even as you move apart, and you will be able to call on them when you need support. Take a moment to look around you today at everyone who sees you as brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous. In those moments when you fear your light, remember that they believe in you and that they will be there, cheering you on as your light grows brighter and brighter, and praying for you when it flickers. It has been truly amazing to see my classmates’ lights grow and strengthen over the years, in their careers and in their personal lives, becoming women that I admire and love deeply. And now, spreading light all around them as they teach their children to let their light shine too.
Your light has grown strong in each other’s presence, but now it is time to disperse that light, carrying it with you wherever you go. Class of 2016, it is your time to go out, free from fear, and make manifest the glory of God that is within you. It’s time to celebrate being brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous!
Laura Kuhl is a doctoral candidate at the Fletcher School at Tufts University and a research fellow at the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy. She has accepted a faculty position at Northeastern University and has previously taught at Boston College. She has conducted fieldwork in Ethiopia, Honduras, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and New England on issues related to climate adaptation. She is the recipient of a National Science Foundation IGERT Fellowship in Water and Diplomacy, and holds a MA from the Fletcher School in environmental policy and development economics and a BA from Middlebury College in environmental studies and anthropology. She is a Montrose alumna of the Class of 2003.