Inclusive Community

This is my address to the leaders at my alma mater: Saint Mary’s College of California. I was one of 5 presentations (6 presenters) on the 5 Core Principles of the Lasallian world. I gave this speech on Monday, April 23, 2012.

When I was asked to speak at this dinner, I knew I wanted to talk about inclusive community. This core principle was such an important part of why I chose to attend a Lasallian college five years ago. But when I sat down to figure out exactly what I wanted to say tonight, I realized how challenging it was going to be to put the concept of “Inclusive Community” into words. For me, it has always been more of a feeling. But these two seemingly simple words embody a critical part of the Lasallian mission, and the more I thought about it, the more I started to crack under the pressure.

I wrote a few ideas out, and set them aside for a couple of days. When I got back to them and read over them, I was disappointed. They seemed so fake to me, like something you’d hear from a stereotypical used car salesman.

It was time to start fresh. Armed with a fresh sheet of paper and my favorite pen, I turned on the Newsies Original Broadway Cast Album, and I sat with a blank sheet of paper until halfway through the album, when my favorite song started. Katherine Plumber, the new female reporter in the Stage Adaptation of Newsies brought to life by Kara Lindsay, spoke out loud exactly how I was feeling: “Write what you know, so they say. All I know is I don’t know what to write or the right way to write it. This is big, lady. Don’t screw it up.”

Right. Don’t screw it up.

I thought back to my first English class at Saint Mary’s. Barry Horowitz scrawled the words “Keep It Simple, Stephanie” onto every paper I handed him. Why did I struggle with this concept so much? Writing what you know the way you speak shouldn’t be so difficult. But it is for me.

Reflecting on it, I realize that it’s because, like the character Katherine, I worried about the “right way” to express something. I haven’t always been a part of an inclusive community. Before college, I spent so much time guarding my ideas, my passions, and my beliefs with a huge brick wall and an electric fence because being different wasn’t always embraced. And I was different. I still am, but now, I embrace it and appreciate the things that make people different because of my experiences in the Lasallian world.

That’s why Saint Mary’s was so magical for me. My first day visiting the campus, I felt like I belonged, and I had just started my senior year of high school. There were, and still are, so many people who are accepting on this campus.

But lots of people around the world are accepting. Lasallians take it to the next level. We embrace our diversity, and celebrate our differences. We rely on the uniqueness of each person to make us what we are.

Walking onto campus, you can feel the camaraderie, the bond that connects all of the students, faculty, staff, and administration. The people on this campus welcome each other. They listen for new ideas, and run with them or argue about them. They are open to discussions, to the blending of ideas. They are open to change, and consistency.

Saint Mary’s thrives on bringing people from various backgrounds together to learn, to live, and to love. When we gather at the round tables for our seminar discussions, we grow when our differences come up. We learn about each other, and about other sides of issues through these differences. And having an open mind to these differences is critical, for it is our differences that provide us with a truly enriched college experience.

As leaders in the Lasallian world, it is up to us. We can continue to embrace this dynamic living situation where we create the warm and inviting atmosphere that encourages community growth. We just need to continue to reach out and welcome others with open arms into our community.

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