Feb. 22, 2017
Hello students, faculty and staff, and President Jensen. Welcome State Farm representatives and thank you for being here today. My name is Anna Kerr-Carpenter. I am honored to stand here on behalf of this year’s State Farm scholars and express the deepest gratitude for State Farm’s generous gift to our education.
But first I would like to start off with a story. Once upon a time, a boy and a girl fell in love at Illinois Wesleyan. They were Georgia Ann and Norm Kerr of the classes of 1954 and 1952. Flash forward 30 years later to the graduation of their two eldest daughters, Kimberly and Kathy Kerr, from Illinois Wesleyan in 1980 and 1982. You may have guessed what happened next. In 2012, Kathy’s youngest daughter received her acceptance letter from Illinois Wesleyan. Back then she was a shy girl from California, with no clue what she wanted out of college (except that she wanted to go somewhere cold), and no idea how she was going to afford it. Little did she know she would stand here before you today…days until graduation (and ready to get away from the cold again), looking forward to all of the opportunities that await her, while at the same time embracing every last memory of the place where she was lucky to spend her most formative years.
It sounds cliché, but in many ways, I didn’t choose Wesleyan. It chose me. My first day on campus was the first time I had ever been on campus before and the following first months of my freshman year were filled with confusion and panic. I wondered if I made the right choice and I considered transferring. However, deciding to stay was the best decision I ever made. From switching my major to anthropology my sophomore year (without ever having taken an anthropology class before), to countless interfaith conversations in the chapel basement every Thursday at 4 p.m…Even though by choosing this school, I carried on a family legacy, my time here was completely my own. I grew my passion for people and telling their stories through my camera, as well as fueled my social justice fire. Last semester, I co-organized a fundraiser with two other students, for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in their fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Through the moral support of my professors and Chaplain Elyse Nelson Winger, and the financial support of Student Senate, the three of us were able to travel to the reservation over Thanksgiving break, to deliver our donations, offer our help, and bring their story back to campus. These opportunities and their impact are just a few of the ways Illinois Wesleyan has embraced me and defined my life.
No two students at this school have the same experiences and reasons why they chose Illinois Wesleyan or why it chose them. While I am honored to tell you my story today, the 100 State Farm Scholars this year are intelligent, strong, and diverse students with stories of their own. And they are only a microcosm of the melting pot that makes up our student body. Because each one of us found our way to Wesleyan and are pursuing our own unique passions, our mutual experience here is that much more enriching. The education Illinois Wesleyan offers us is truly incomparable, but it would be nothing without the students it attracts from all walks of life.
So, in true anthropological fashion, I decided to learn about some of the students sitting here today and tell you their stories. Yesenia Martinez Calderon is a first- year Secondary Education and Hispanic Studies major and a first-generation student. She says, “everyone has the power to bring positive change to their situation." Today her presence on campus is the result of her parents’ hard work and resilience. She plans to use her education to go back home to Chicago, and help students who, like her, have had to go through the college application process alone.” Ruth Tadesse is a sophomore International Studies major from Ethiopia. She plans to get a master’s in Public Health Policy. She appreciates Illinois Wesleyan’s liberal arts system “because it has helped her become a well rounded person.” Living between Ethiopia, South Africa and Morocco growing up, “taught her that diversity is a beautiful thing and one can only learn more things about herself by reflecting upon other cultures and making an effort to understand them.” Ojaswee Shreshta is a junior Environmental Studies major from Nepal. She says “coming from a small and unrecognized country” to Illinois Wesleyan allows her to fulfill her dreams of working “for the betterment of communities in developing countries” like hers, using scientific advancements to combat environmental issues affecting her “land and people.”
This is why State Farm’s contribution to our education is so important. Your financial support allows us to be a part of an institution comprising over 100 years of life-changing student stories and experiences. Scholarships like this one allow Illinois Wesleyan to continue to thrive and bring together driven, passionate, and diverse students and future world-changers. With State Farm’s generosity, we can forge our own path and carry into the world all of the gifts that our education has given us. Personally, I hope to one day pay it forward, and continue the story of Illinois Wesleyan for future generations. On behalf of everyone here today, thank you, State Farm, for investing in our education and our lives.