By Dean D. Guerra (’13)
Dr. Maya Angelou once said, “We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.” I grew up in a rich, colorful, beautiful tapestry of life. You may not realize it about me at first glance, but I grew up in a children’s home in Texas with 27 girls. Some Mexican, Some Black, Some White, Some Vietnamese, Some Eritrean, Some Choctaw Indian.
We had yellow strands, brown strands, tan strands, red strands, black strands, white strands, and every other color in between. We learned from each other how to make homemade flour tortillas, Eritrean Hambasha, chow mein. We ate well together. We played hide and seek, barbies, catch, Nintendo, monopoly, and charades together. We spent Easters, birthdays, Thanksgivings, and Christmases together.
We were there to congratulate one another on first boyfriends and girlfriends, and to hold each other when we ended up single again the day before Valentine’s Day. We went to each other’s choir concerts, band recitals, volleyball games, and plays. We held each other’s hands when we had to have our tonsils or appendix removed. We praised God together when we each got baptized, and we asked God questions when we each first experienced someone we love dying.
We weaved a family tapestry together. These girls were my family, my sisters. Skin color was a beautiful attribute that was to be admired and proud of, not something that divided us. We worked. Most importantly we were a WE. They years went by and we got older, graduated high school, some of us went to college, some of us started families, some went into the career world.
I came to Wake Forest on a full ride for theatre, academics, and need. I found my own group of friends and together we weaved a tapestry. It was a little less colorful than what I was used to, but that is not to say that there weren’t colors here, just to say that I made less of an effort. The longer I have been at Wake Forest, the more colorful my tapestry has become. The more important to me it is that my life’s tapestry becomes more colorful. Often times I realize that it is so easy to not venture out to anything or anyone that seems foreign to our own experience. However, the longer I have been at Wake, the more I have realized the importance of having diversity in your life.
People tell me all the time, “You have so many ethnic friends.” Don’t you love that word? Ethnic? I always say, “What do you mean?” They say, “You know, a lot of the people you hang out with are black or Asian.” I look at them and I think of where I grew up. I think of my family tapestry. I don’t see someone who’s Asian, I see my sister who taught me to read. I don’t see someone who’s Hispanic, I see my sister who taught me how to swim. I realize I don’t see someone that’s black, I see my sister who taught me that no matter what happens, I can do anything like she did when she was able to escape the small African country of Eritrea in a time of war. I realize that no matter where I go in life, my roots are weaved into a rich, beautiful, colorful tapestry of my family.
As I stand here today reflecting on my time at Wake Forest I am so proud to be a part of a new page and a lasting legacy that has been created here: that no matter what color, creed, religion, gender, you may be, YOU are important. I am important. WE are important because together we work to not right yesterday’s wrongs but to create a future together of equality, acceptance, understanding, and love.
There is no future without the present, and if I charge you with anything today it is to remember the past and work hard to create a future for the better of Wake Forest. A future of tolerance, acceptance, love and family. Today, I charge you to go the football games, to the theatre shows, to the Office of Multicultural Affairs Gospel Fest, to the LGBTQ Center’s study hours. I charge you to not rest on your laurels but to continue to create an environment, at Wake Forest, where we learn and educate the mind, spirit, body, and soul. We are a diverse group, we come from all across this country and the globe. We must use this to our advantage, and not let differences separate us. We must learn to create a tapestry that celebrates and learns from different cultures and experiences, instead of one of intolerance and division. To create like the 27 girls that I grew up with and I did, a family tapestry.
All of us here are a part of the Wake Forest Family, and it is up to us what our family tapestry looks like. This may seem lofty but consider this: We have already created a tapestry that makes it possible for some poor kid from a Houston children’s home to have a dream to attend an excellent university for free, have the audacity to apply and get accepted. Today as I look out, my heart smiles because I see Wake Forest’s tapestry and how each of us weave ourselves onto it. Each one of us is a strand, none more important than the other. I have to tell you, our Wake Forest tapestry is beautiful, and I cannot wait to see how it gets better.