We are proud to announce that two journalism minors, David Ajamy and Bri Carney, delivered orations at the 2019 Senior Colloquium. Faculty-nominated student speakers present essays about unusual insights or critiques of culture learned during their time at Wake Forest. Ten of the submissions, including David and Bri, were chosen as finalists to be presented at the colloquium. David’s speech, “Home,” and Bri’s “Love and Spreadsheets” can be found below.
“Home,” David Ajamy II
Prior to coming to college, no one beyond my immediate family knew much about my time growing up. No one knew the full extent of my family’s hardships. No one knew the truth, the reality of our daily lives. No one knew of the nights we slept in the car; and no one knew we were homeless for so many years.
The most people knew was that we were from a low-income bracket, but no one knew that every morning before school, we would drive to the BP gas station on Hawthorne to use its lone bathroom to wash my hair.
They didn’t know we went to the Harris Teeter on Cloverdale to use the restroom at night. They didn’t know we spent nights searching for a place to park the car — hoping we wouldn’t get caught or bothered while we slept. I had to lie about everything — not only to preserve my family’s dignity, but also because if anyone knew, I would lose everything: lose my family and my life.
While many people can’t and will never be able understand this idea or experience, those nights were safe for me. Those nights were when I was truly me. In our crème 1985 Nissan Maxima we would sleep. My dad in the driver’s seat, my mom in the passenger, Juliet, our old Doberman, on the floor in the back, and then me in the backseat. My family was a pack. We had each other’s backs and we always will.
Given my past, I never thought I would attend college. While my parents told me that we would figure out a way, I didn’t believe it. I especially never thought I would attend Wake Forest. Wake was the rich-kid school; secluded and not meant for me. Nonetheless, I found myself at here.
While my family is fortunate to have a home and more financial stability to date, the days will always stay with me. Yet, I knew I had to go on.
So as I started to think of my life post high school, I knew a furlough from education wasn’t a possibility. This decision was rooted in both my love for learning and because of my parents’ teaching that framed college as the avenue out of poverty. Even though Wake didn’t seem to be where I could belong, I applied to be close to my parents and home. To my surprise, I not only got in, but got in without financial worry. This is a gift I will forever be grateful for. But, I still was in a daze, how was I going to Wake Forest, I place I never even dreamed of?
It wasn’t until my first day on campus that all the changes set in. While still in Winston, I was gone. Like many of us, I was away for the first time. Here I was, at college.
Just as I thought I would never find myself at any college, I thought I would never love Wake, never feel at home. My home was where my people were, twelves minutes away.
But I was wrong. I found my people here, and in turn, found a home. I built memories on this campus and I found love and support I never thought I deserved. I felt safe and accepted.
I think it’s important to say Wake isn’t perfect, and I must acknowledge how my privileged identities have helped me navigate my time here.
But what makes this place the way it is are the people. It was at Wake that I found the people who made this place my second home.
Because of this circle of warmth and acceptance, I have stopped the lies, stopped the act, and have been at peace with being truly me. I have been vulnerable and true to my past. And as a soon-to-be graduate, I know that I have been able to feel this way because of one weekend my first year.
It wasn’t until fall break of my first year that people knew of my past. Prior to the weekend, no one knew anything. It was during those three days that I began to feel ready to finally share my truth. To my surprise, my first time sharing my past, was to a room of sixty people, some I knew, others I didn’t.
I will never forget that moment. I trembled as I began: tears rolled down and somehow, I told them. And they listened without the judgement I always expected.
I told them secrets that I had thought I would have to live alone with forever.
I was scared to my core, but in no way was I shameful in that moment. I felt empowered and loved.
And that love came and has come from so many; and it was during that weekend that I found some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met. I found my some of best friends and my family grew. No longer was it just my immediate family, now I had Zach, Chizoba, Hannah, Erica, and many more.
My life changed because of that social justice retreat. My life changed because of branches.
I am forever indebted to the student organizers and the Pro Humanitate institute for that weekend. In my four years here, I always find my mind going back to that weekend. I never really registered why, but now I see that my ability to share my truth there has impacted me in ways I am just now understanding.
It was during the drafting of this speech that for the first time I really began to fully feel the bearing those couple of days had on me.
That weekend and the people there will forever stay in my heart. It was then that I finally felt like myself, that I felt like David in a place without my parents. Coming to Wake Forest enabled me to finally be true to myself.
After branches, I found myself delving down into social justice and involvement within PHI — doing all I could to promote justice in our community.
My future changed because of Pro Humanitate. It was through our school’s motto that I found people devoted to improving each other, and the world.
Being on this campus empowered me to understand myself, and in turn, to understand what I want to do in life. My life is and will always be about promoting change – for I want to live a life for humanity.
I now see that this campus, its students, faculty, and staff did just what my parents did and still do. They protected, nurtured, and made me feel safe. But they also pushed me to reflect and become a better activist, a better student, but mostly, a better person.
Just like those days sleeping in the car, I fall asleep every night in my bed at Wake, in my home, feeling safe, loved, and thankful.
No more do I worry about shame—because this is my story. This is my life. And it all started because of that weekend, but mostly, because of you all.
I say this, but still many of my close friends are unaware of my past while others probably only know of me for my poofy hair and love for Moes’s Southwest Grill; so then, to have this opportunity and space today to share a part of me with you all means a lot.
While I am full of joy, I am still in shock, because here I am, almost four years later, sharing my story with a lot more than 60 students; life is truly unpredictable.
So, while I never thought I would be here, never thought I would be graduating from college, I truly never thought I would be sharing my truth.
Being on this campus – the campus of Wake Forest University – I have gained something I never thought I would have. I have a home beyond home, a pack beyond my family, and a place I will always treasure.
“Love and Spreadsheets,” Bri Carney
I’m an English major who has read hundreds of books filled with wisdom about life, yet I’m choosing to talk about spreadsheets. I know, I also think numbers are boring, but hear me out. What are spreadsheets? They’re lists. Documents filled with numbers or words, split into columns and rows based on like characteristics. They are divisive. They separate things to fall in line with the group they belong to. In life, at times, we feel like we are on a human spreadsheet. We fall in line where we belong. Each of us, a single cell, consistent with one row and one column. The cell we are assigned too is not often self-assigned. It is based off of perceptions and preconceived notions. Someone or something tells us where we belong, and this makes us feel as though we are defined by only two factors. It’s hard to be yourself when you feel like everyone around you sees you through such a narrow scope.
From the moment I stepped foot on Wake’s campus in August of 2015 I knew this was going to be an amazing four years. I felt very comfortable here. I felt at home. I think that comfort came from fitting into an oftentimes homogeneous student body. I looked like every other girl on campus. I wore my Hunter Boots when it rained, I ate my dinners at the Pit, and I enjoyed the occasional late night Subway trip with my friends. My cell on a spreadsheet would fall under column: female, row: typical Wake Forest student.
All of that changed a year ago. After 20 years of keeping secrets from me, my brain finally told me: hey guess what, you’re gay! If you’re curious about what that realization is like, it’s like when you’re a kid and you finally find out Santa isn’t real. Part of you thinks, “Well I guess I kind of always knew.” Another part of you thinks, “Wow this is a scary new reality I have to live in. Will I still get presents?” You want to tell everyone this news, but you’re not sure how they’ll react. Also, oddly somehow your parents knew the whole time, but wanted you to figure it out for yourself. It’s a confusing time, but you can’t live forever thinking Santa is real, and you certainly can’t live forever being someone you’re not.
After a few months of being out, I realized that I would never be happy if I didn’t become fully myself. I chopped off my hair, because looking like this feels the most authentically me. It was liberating and great for a while, but then I came back to Wake and realized not many people here look like me. Now I was different. Now my cell on a spreadsheet would read, column: female, row: non-normative outsider.
Growing up, adults would always tell you it’s good to be different. That sounds a whole lot better when being different means you’re the first kid to lose a tooth and being that kid with the gap in your teeth means you are first grade royalty. Being different is less fun in college when you come out as gay and you feel like it has suddenly become your only identifying quality. Then different isn’t so fun. Different is scary. Different is lonely.
Thanks to my teammates, family, and friends I feel unconditional love and support for who I am every single day. However I quickly recognized that is not a privilege everyone shares, and I wanted to do something about it. I wanted to make Wake an even more accepting place.
Early this past summer I noticed that Duke’s Women’s Soccer team hosted a Pride Game during the previous fall season. It seemed like an awesome idea and I wanted to bring something similar to Wake. My teammates and coaches were all completely on board and we began our 2018 soccer season with high hopes of hosting a Pride Game. Unfortunately the idea was initially shot down by the Athletic Department. I was upset by the news and spent a few days gathering my thoughts and trying to decide what to do next. I wanted to…I needed to prove to the Athletic Department and, probably even more so, prove to myself that this was an idea other people cared about. I pulled out my laptop and drafted a statement of support. The statement read:
“The Wake Forest Women’s Soccer Team is planning to host a Pride Game at a home game during this 2018 season. Unfortunately, this idea has been rejected by the athletic department.
A Pride Game is designed to be an event that celebrates those who identify with the LGBTQ community as well as the allies who support it. It is about acknowledging a marginalized community through celebration and sport.”
The statement of support went on to say, “Sports are a place of inclusion. They are a space where people from various backgrounds, races, ethnicities, sexual and gender identities can come together to become a team, even a family. Because sports inherently foster inclusivity, it is important that our collegiate athletic programs use our platform to promote just that.”
My petition closed with an acknowledgment of support and acceptance of the LGBTQ community by any signee.
I finished writing the statement and sent it out to my teammates and friends asking that they share it with others if they felt inclined to do so. For those who are unfamiliar with how a Google form works, the responses come in live, updated and time stamped on a Google spreadsheet. I took a deep breath and waited anxiously to see if I would get any signatures.
I sat in my room in silence and watched the names roll in on the Google spreadsheet. The first names I saw were those of teammates and friends, then suddenly names I didn’t recognize. Or names I did, but I wondered how they’d heard. My phone buzzed with text messages of people sharing their support and asking for the link so they could post it on social media or send it to friends and family. It spread through the student body like the news that the Reynolda Campus is closed for a snow day. I watched the names fall one by one, down the page. As 10 became 20. As 20 became 50. As 50 soon became 100. Suddenly a spreadsheet, something I once thought to be divisive – was exactly the opposite. The names on THIS spreadsheet were all united for the same reason. I became overwhelmed with the love I was receiving and ran into my friend Nonie’s room crying tears of relief and joy to tell her how in 28 minutes we had over 200 signatures! Little did I know that in 48 hours there would be well over 1,000. 1,000 friends, old and new, declaring this place, our place, our Wake, a place for love, a place for growth, and a place where everyone is welcome.
Being different can be very difficult. Especially if hiding your differences is impossible or if doing so would make you miserable. Diversity is what makes the world an interesting place. Although we all conform to many common columns and rows, each of us is diverse in our own way. No one should ever feel like they can be defined by just one column or just one row. When I was told we could not have a Pride Game, I lost faith in this place I called home. I felt betrayed by a place I held dear. I felt the answer I was given was surely not indicative of the university I know and love. So I took a chance. Vulnerable and very afraid I turned to my community, our Wake community. With the simple click of a button I let an entire college campus into the most intimate part of my life. I watched the names fill in one by one down the spreadsheet with tears in my eyes and only one thought in my head. Wow…This is the Wake I love, this is pro humanitate. This is a community rallying behind one of its own to prove its dedication to being for humanity. All of humanity. In a world that has become increasingly divided, I urge you to show endless love for all of those around you, no matter where they may fall on the human spreadsheet. Be willing to listen. Be willing to change your mind. Be willing to change someone else’s mind. Be the reason someone else finds the courage to be different. You never know, that difference may be the idea that brings us all back together.