Whether it’s been through a short conversation between friends, a philosophical question posed by a professor or an opportunity to study abroad, members of the William & Mary senior class have grown and changed over the past four years – often challenging how they view the world and handle differing points of view.
It’s those ideas that Seth Opoku-Yeboah '16 will discuss in his address as the Commencement student speaker this year. The ceremony will take place May 14 in William & Mary Hall.
"I focus on how we fail to realize the ultimate lesson of college," said Opoku-Yeboah, "to challenge our worldview and embrace different perspectives.
"These conversations can happen in the classroom, but outside of the academic setting it is easy for people to self-segregate, which ultimately justifies their singular perspective on the world and suppresses opportunity for productive conversation."
Opoku-Yeboah, who grew up in Prince William County, Virginia, is graduating from the university with a Bachelor of Arts in government and Africana studies. Outside of his majors, he has been an active member of Student Assembly, men's club soccer team, Tribal Fever and the Task Force on Race and Race Relations.
Opoku-Yeboah was inspired to apply for the opportunity of student speaker after hearing the speech given at last year's Commencement.
"Sitting in the audience for last year's Commencement ceremony and hearing the student speaker allowed me to realize the potential impact a strong message could have on the audience," said Opoku-Yeboah.
Reflecting on the race and mental-health issues that occurred at W&M during his junior year, Opoku-Yeboah said he wanted his speech to be a catalyst for hard conversations on those issues and the like.
"It was disappointing to see our leaders, friends and even myself prove unable to have the difficult conversations that often require us to be vulnerable and upset those around us," said Opoku-Yeboah. "I would say that having personal beliefs is fine, but when they serve as blinders and censor conversation it closes the curtains on opportunities for personal and collective growth."
Opoku-Yeboah applied for the opportunity to be the student Commencement speaker back in December. Having gotten through the first round of auditions, he was one of five asked to come back for the final round.
He found out he would be this year's speaker via a voicemail.
"My mom was the excited one,” said Opoku-Yeboah. “She was rooting for me throughout the entire process, and I always love the opportunity to bring a smile to her face."
Overall, Opoku-Yeboah hopes his peers will take away the understanding that as graduates of William & Mary, they can be a force to help jump-start hard conversations and help to change their own views as well as others.
"It's important for students to realize that graduating from W&M gives us license to act on major issues," said Opoku-Yeboah. "People listen to us because we have these degrees. Sometimes speaking up or acting is not ideal and becomes a burden, but that One Tribe One Family mindset must extend beyond this campus and be extrapolated to the greater world."