Caroline Bhupathi ’20 is a graduating senior from Dallas, Texas, majoring in computer science and minoring in data analysis. While at Wesleyan, she often served as a course assistant for various economics, computer science, and data analysis courses and tutored and managed the Scientific Computing and Informatics Center (SCIC). She was also the recipient of the Plukas Teaching Apprentice Award in Economics and the Mike Rice Prize in Computer Science. In addition to her academic commitments, Caroline was a member of Wesleyan’s only sorority, Rho Epsilon Pi; co-captain of the Wesleyan Club Tennis Team; and a participant in numerous first-year orientation performances, including “In the Company of Others” and “We Speak We Stand.” An active member of Wesleyan’s multicultural community, Caroline considers Wesleyan to be a second home. She made the following remarks (as prepared and previously recorded) during the 188th Commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 24:
Thank you, President Roth.
Before I begin, I would like to address the elephant in our respective rooms: we are watching our graduation through a screen. To be honest, I was debating whether or not I should even mention the situation. I thought to myself, “We’ve heard enough of it already, what else is there to say?” And there isn’t really more to say, other than to hear it from a fellow student who understands what you are going through.
A day after being told that campus would be closed for the remainder of the semester, I found myself packing up my room in my senior wood-frame house with my brother. The day also consisted of me giving him a tour of the entire campus, a trip down to my favorite restaurant on Main Street, and an endless stream of stories that I shared with him in the car as we drove to and from the store to buy boxes. Once all my belongings were packed, and we were back on the road, my brother said, “Seeing and hearing about your time at Wesleyan reminds me of this quote from a show called After Life, ‘Everybody deserves to be in their local paper.’” It wasn’t until I started writing this speech that I pieced it, this quote, into my own narrative at Wes.
I am a mixed-race woman who never really knew her place. Not saying that I entirely do now, but I am as close as I have ever been to figuring it out, thanks to Wesleyan. Wesleyan, for many of us, is a safe place where we are given the space to not only learn and grow, but to be heard. Can you think of the last time you had five—maybe ten—uninterrupted minutes to speak? I had mine my sophomore year, when I tried to find any excuse I could to come back to Wesleyan early. That excuse took the form of participating in ‘In The Company of Others.’
When I came back to campus a week early for orientation that school year, I went to the first rehearsal to find out that I would be speaking in front of the entire first-year class for ten whole minutes about my identity. Up until then, being mixed meant that I was wedged between contradicting cultures, not being sure which was mine to claim. So this was something that was never asked of me before. After many rehearsals, the day finally came where I stood in front of the first year class to tell them my experience in being mixed as one that meant not knowing if whether or not I’ll find a community already spelled out for me when walking into a new space–that being mixed meant trying to find a sense of belonging.
Those ten minutes gave me the opportunity to take back and redefine my complex identity that had once been defined by others. Not only that, but I had the chance to hear other students’ ten-minute stories of their experiences. Their stories made me realize that there are and always have been many people like me with racially or non-racially mixed backgrounds who feel like their identities have been predetermined. That is, until coming to Wesleyan.
My Wesleyan experience, like many, is not only being heard for the first time, but hearing others. The people at Wesleyan have taught me that we don’t necessarily have to have the same experiences to relate to one another. Wesleyan has meant that I was able to express, for myself, my own everchanging narrative. So, whether it be speaking in front of the first years for ten minutes, being featured as a Wesceleb in the Argus, discussing important campus matters in WSA, leading a protest across campus for an important cause, being inducted into a not-so-secret, secret society, having your band play at MASH, growing food at Long Lane Farm, winning NESCACs with your team, directing a Second Stage play, creating a club to provide a space that was not already there, or writing an honors thesis, Wesleyan has given us the opportunity to discover ourselves and celebrate us, not only as individuals, but as a collective. The lessons we learned and the knowledge that we gained did not diminish once we left campus. We should all be extremely proud of ourselves for what we have accomplished these past few years, and what we have done to finish despite being caught in the midst of history in the making.
I believe I speak for the Class of 2020 when I say we wish we could be there in-person to say, “Thank you, Wesleyan.” Thank you for letting all of us, in one way or another, be featured in your local paper.