Bard College at Simon's Rock: the Early College
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Associates of Arts Degree Class Speaker Juliette Kelly Coleman

When I was 15—a quiet and nervous sophomore in high school—I thought I had it all figured out. I would go to a nice college and then onto med school before becoming the world’s next Meredith Grey. But that all changed when I discovered Simon’s Rock. I began my own path of careful research, thought, and nagging to get my parents to allow me to apply. Fast forward to workshop week, 2015. I had Book One, Geek Sublime, and an obnoxious number of notes on the book tucked under my arm. My dad was fighting back tears and my mom gave me a final hug before they left me in the muggy hallway of Kendrick to begin my journey; the journey that can only be described as the Simon’s Rock experience.

Since that first day of workshop week in 2015, I have made life-long friends, I have probably typed hundreds of response journals, and I have experienced things I never could have imagined myself doing. I became a peer advocate, participated in my first drag show, and I gained the confidence to sit down at any table at lunch and join into meaningful conversations. Looking back now, I wonder how I, that formerly timid 15-year-old, could get up on a podium in front of all of you and deliver this speech today. While I owe endless thanks to my friends, family, and many of the faculty and staff members here at Simon’s Rock, I have found that my personal transformation truly began when I understood the need to listen.

If there is one important takeaway that my three semesters of seminar taught me, it is that you can only speak from your own experience and then listen to what others have to say. Looking outside your own perspective is crucial. Taking my own advice, I went and asked some of my fellow Rockers for a short description about their own experience at Simon’s Rock. I would like to share five of those responses with you today:

From Anonymous:

“It’s very diverse. Where I come from, there aren’t this many different backgrounds in one place. . . Simon’s Rock is a one of a kind experience, the community is very close knit”

From sophomore, Whitney Harris:

“In my experience, Simon's Rock is good at being where "independent minds get their start." In that it prepares you emotionally and academically to be a thoughtful person and learner for the rest of your life”

From Anonymous:

“Simons rock gave me a safe place where I could explore who I am without the fear of being judged. It wasn’t always an easy time for me but I wouldn’t have been able to find myself without Simon’s Rock”

From another Sophomore, Cordenne Brewster

“Simon's Rock is what it has been described as for yearsa bubble. But bubbles are more than what meets the eye. They absorb, change shape, and ultimately they POP, and their osmotic nature represents the good, the bad, the old, the new, the beautiful, and the ugly-of Simon's Rock, and when bubbles pop what leaks out is just a reflection of us.”

And finally, from senior Andre Santana

“I came to Simon's Rock to find my academic self… I was coming for the education, for the early college opportunity… But when I got here, I found friends, I found classes that personally excited me. I found assignments that challenged me, and I learned what truly drove me. I matured, found responsibilities, and had fun. I came to discover my academic self and also discovered a buried personal self. A student capable of more than my 16-year-old counterpart could have imagined. As I discovered more of Simon's Rock, Simon's Rock discovered more of me”

In all of these sentiments, there is this joy, this challenge, this excitement, this struggle, this discovery, this place that so many people can call home: this is the Simon’s Rock experience. Yet these quotes are only a small sample of the experiences from the individuals at Simon’s Rock As a community, we make up this quirky group of intelligent, creative, and mindful individuals, from a wide variety of backgrounds. There are many voices still to be heard.

Simon’s Rock has taught us how to ask questions, and how never to be satisfied with the norm. So, when you leave here today, take with you the passion and curiosity needed to make change in this world, but most importantly, take with you an ear to listen. Reach out for other opinions, and do not hide behind the safety net that is your own perspective. With all of the hate present in today’s society, it is now more important than ever to focus on and to try to comprehend the challenges and struggles that others are facing. It is not always possible to experience what other people go through, but by listening we can gain other perspectives, and ultimately, understanding. With this understanding, we can achieve compassion, and through compassion, we can accomplish change.

Thank you.