Hello my beautiful Wharton classmates. I am honored and humbled to speak to you all today. This is the second most important thing I have ever written.
You see, exactly ten years ago, I wrote a poem called Firefly. Don’t worry, I won’t read it today. It relied far too heavily on melodrama and cliché metaphors to deserve your attention. But the jumbled words captured a personal rawness and vulnerability worth reflection. An actual portal to my former self.
And when I was 18, through that very poem, hands trembling, voice shaking, I came out as gay to my deeply Catholic family.
I mean, if you’re angsty teenage son walks into your room, and crying, tells you he has a poem to read…get ready…But it was a moment, so raw and pure, I hope to never forget it.
At that time, I was scared. Scared of my queerness, that thing that made me strange and different. Scared it would mean I wouldn’t be like everyone else. I hated being queer.
But as time passed, I began to see my queerness as a gift. In college, it informed my perspective on social justice. And in 2012, on a drizzly day in São Paulo, my queerness introduced me to the love of my life. And all along the way, it helped me build empathy.
I feel deeply inadequate giving advice to my Wharton peers, who are so much more successful than me in so many ways, but I offer two pieces of advice.
The first is to not be afraid to be queer. Queer, a word reclaimed from the bullies in high school. And I don’t mean everyone should be queer, in like a gay agenda type of way, but rather, love the things that make you different, odd, unique. Cherish the things that make you queer in a space.
In an age of automation, our queerness is what separates us from the machines, what makes us beautiful, what makes us human. And in the age of the “me too” movement, we have learned that sometimes we are not queer in our experience, but rather, in our ability say something. To quote the late activist Maggie Kuhn, “speak your mind even if your voice shakes.”
But perhaps your voice won’t shake. That, as well as that weird thing you were doing with your hands, of course, was corrected in communications class.
So then my second piece of advice is this, if someone hands trembling, voice shaking has something to say to us about the world we are creating, we better listen. We are no longer the nervous teenager. Whatever community with which we identify, we are now queer in our Wharton privilege.
That teenage version of myself was scared I wouldn’t be like everyone else. Well, I’m not, and neither are you. And not that we are necessarily smarter, or more deserving than others, but we have the immense privilege to be in the boardrooms where the business decisions that will shape our world are made. To have gone to Wharton.
And so, I leave you with this. As we set out into the world, with our shiny new degrees in hand, let us embrace our queerness, however you define it. Let us speak our minds, even if our voice shakes; and as we move into positions of power, let us remember that the most important thing of all will be to listen.