Abbeygale Anderson ’14 was one of two students voted by her classmates to speak at graduation. At Nobles, Anderson was an officer in the Multicultural Student Association, a leader in Sister 2 Sister and a founding member of Students for Socioeconomic Awareness. She was also a boarder, prefect, a varsity rower, a Chinese language scholar and received The Nash Prize for Executive Ability. She traveled to New Orleans and India on community service trips and was involved in CivicWeek, a service-learning program at Northwestern University. The Global Online Academy course examining HIV that she took at Nobles inspired her Class I Project with a gastroenterologist at Beth Israel. She matriculated at Dartmouth College in the Fall of 2014. The following is a shortened version of her graduation speech, originally delivered on May 30, 2014.
A Bold Moment
“When I was 7, I moved to Brooklyn, New York from Jamaica. One night I was walking back to my broken-down apartment building, walking the same trail I usually walked with my babysitter. Outside of the elevator, Andrew, a 14-year-old family friend who lived in the same building, stood beside another teenage boy. Andrew was filled with rage.
I backed away gradually. I thought, ‘What is this boy, this friend I have followed and admired, about to do?’ There was a bulge in his pocket, and because I knew him well I was aware that he carried a knife. He used his thumb to slide the knife open, and with no hesitation, jabbed it into the stranger’s breast. He glared at me and ran away, leaving the stranger to die on the hardwood floor in the hallway in front of me.
That night, two police officers found me in the corner of my pink floral bathroom. In the fetal position, I stuck myself between the off white tub and the toilet. They said, ‘Can we ask you a few questions about what you saw, honey?’ Remember, I was 7 at the time; they treated me with delicacy. When I opened my mouth to speak nothing came out.
They asked another question. I tried to speak and nothing came out. A third question, and this time I spoke with a stammer. I stuttered so badly they gave up and left me to fall asleep that night in the bathroom.
Ever since that night I have stuttered. My mom has never been able to afford a speech therapist, but we tackled my speech impediment in different ways. I spoke slowly. I sang when I just couldn’t get out the words. I paused, took a breath, and started over. I still struggle with stuttering.
The first time I really had to confront my stuttering at Nobles was during our U.S. history debate. Each person gets a topic and a stance to argue. My topic was super PACS, and I argued that super PACS were unconstitutional—that they lead to the domination over many by a few.
I had to start with an opening statement of about 150 words. I completely butchered it. I’m sure no one could understand me, but I kept going. This time, I couldn’t speak slowly, I couldn’t sing the words, I couldn’t pause, I knew I just had to keep going. I refused to let Ms. [Marcella] Maldonado down; even more, I refused to let myself down. It was time to speak. Eventually, I got much more comfortable. My stutter became minimal. And I kicked butt.
When I was a junior and realized I had Mr. [Bob] Henderson for AP European History, I went to his office to warn him that I have a speech impediment. When I told him this, Henderson looked and me and said, ‘And? So what?’ Thank you for that response; it made me realize that I do not need to apologize for something that is a part of me.
Being at Nobles, I have been given the opportunity to be who I am without any apologies. Nobles has become a place where I can take risks. It is a place where I am no longer afraid to put myself in front of a crowd and speak with all my imperfections. My stutter will remain with me, and that’s okay.
To my teachers: I have never felt more supported and loved in any environment. When I first came to Nobles, I was angry. Angry that I knew no one. Angry that I always felt a little behind my peers. But you allowed me to realize that this anger was fear of not fitting in, fear of not fulfilling expectations. You helped me turn my fear into fuel. I’m not angry anymore. I’m motivated, I’m inspired, I’m grateful.
To my mom: I would not be up here if it weren’t for you. My mother came here, from Jamaica with 75 cents in her pocket. She used this money to call me, the daughter she had no choice but to leave behind for a while. I appreciate the risk and struggle you’ve been through to give me such phenomenal opportunities.
To my little brother, Jordan: I love you. You push me to be a better role model every day. I hope you’re proud of your big sister.
To the class of 2014: Our class is bound by the legacy we have shaped this year. I will cherish the laughter and the memories. I know that this will probably be the last time that we are all together. Thank you for giving me the courage that I need to speak without hesitation.”