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Student Speaker Krista Sergi's Convocation Remarks

Throughout the year, HGSE students have heard a lot about the single story. If this term is new to you, the single story is a succinct name for a one-dimensional view of reality. To give an example, it’s a lot like when I tell people that I am from New Jersey, and inevitably I see a grimace or they tell me, “Oh, I’m sorry for you.” Inside I’m thinking about the one-floor log cabin I grew up in, but on the outside I manage a laugh, because I know full well that my state is being judged on the basis of one highway and one incredibly unfortunate reality T.V. show. So as you can see, the single story represents a lack of truth, and here at HGSE, whether it has been through classes, forums with influential guest speakers such as Temple Grandin and Beverly Tatum, or just over a drink at UNOs, our students, faculty, and staff are challenging the single story by continually unearthing and teasing out those details and experiences that make a story true.

I’d like you to take a moment and think about the single story you had of HGSE or of Harvard in general before you came here. Go ahead, I’ll give you five seconds.

Now think about if that story has changed, expanded, or even reversed. Again, five seconds. I know I certainly had a single story of Harvard before I came here. When I was accepted, besides thinking "are you sure you meant to accept me?" I envisioned taking classes in halls built in the early 1600s while Milton penned Paradise Lost, learning from professors who are the best in their field, and possibly rubbing shoulders with celebrities. But I was also scared. Scared of the students I would encounter here, because my single story was that of elitism and cliquishness. A single story that I wasn’t good enough.

In some ways, my story came true -- the professors, they are the best in their field, and not only do they teach our classes, but I saw them everyday, working side by side with their students. And, I sat six inches from Josh Groban. Six. Inches. And is that Michael Bloomberg I see walking down the street? Probably. It is Harvard after all. But in many ways, my single story was proven, as it should be, lacking in detail.

First of all, HGSE was founded not in the 1600s when Milton was writing Paradise Lost, but in 1920, when F. Scott Fitzgerald was writing This Side of Paradise. Secondly, I was utterly transformed by the sheer thoughtfulness and brilliance of the faculty, staff, and especially my peers. Your stories, the ones about years of working as teachers in China or as the creator of a tech start up, the ones about growing up in other countries and braving new worlds not once but over and over again, the ones about starting a family and a doctoral program at the same time, or the ones about opening a new school only to have it close the following year. These are the stories of education. These are the threads that inform what we do and how we approach one of the most important jobs there is- the transference of knowledge. The fact that there are so many cohorts, and cohorts within cohorts just goes to show how many stories of education there are.

There is a motto among some of the faculty that the work we do here is identity work. I just didn’t realize how much of that identity work would be our own. Many of us came here in August not only with a single story of Harvard, but of ourselves, and leave knowing that every part of us, from the professional and learned educator to, in my case, the girl who likes to run around her apartment singing songs from Disney’s Frozen, is encapsulated within an ever- evolving identity. And when we leave Harvard, that identity is going to shift again. We’re no longer grad students, we’re Harvard Graduates. And let’s face it, there are going to be people out there who might have a single story of us now. While this might seem overwhelming or intimidating, try to look at it both as an asset and a privilege. This degree, this identity, is a key to opening up voices that have been locked away and doors of opportunity that have been unjustly closed.

Finally, throughout this year, Harvard has made sure we have seen one word every day. It’s there when you see the Harvard shuttle go by, it’s there when you log into an isite, it’s there as you struggle to pull out your ID to get into Gutman. That word is veritas. Truth. As educators we seek the truth of the whole story, and with our vast experiences and new knowledge and skills, we will continue the fight to leave no voice unheard and no story untold.