On the Monday before Thanksgiving, nearly 200 Nobles graduates, students, faculty and family members gathered in the castle dining hall for the fourth annual Nwanagu Family Dinner to celebrate community. The evening is an opportunity for people of color to share stories and make connections with each other across decades and affiliations. We were thrilled that the family of Devin Nwanagu ’05, who tragically passed away nearly five years ago, was able to join us to honor her memory including Devin’s 97 year-old grandmother. Devin, alongside Edgar De Leon ’04, originally conceived the idea to gather graduates and students of color in a yearly tradition.
The night was hosted by De Leon, Nahyon Lee, Gabriella Malave and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion department. As the featured graduate speaker, Mikaela Martin ’19 shared her experiences at Nobles, as well as in her first semester at Harvard. Miki’s speech received a standing ovation and is included below.
“Good evening! I can’t tell you all how good it feels to be back! I’m seeing familiar faces, new faces—it warms my heart to see so many people gathered to honor Devin and what she stood for. She was my substitute tennis coach for a while and I still feel her presence and why she stands for. I am honored to speak at this event tonight. Thank you to Edgar, Gabby, and Ms. Lee for offering me the opportunity to come back to my alma mater and speak to my most beloved community.
My first month of college, I was feeling a little bit like a baby bird pushed too soon out of the nest. My wings were wet and thin and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to soar like those before me had done or if I would smack into the concrete below. I realize now that I had felt that same feeling seven years ago when I first started at Nobles. I had this feeling that there was no space for me. I hardly saw anyone like me. I felt my voice was too loud, my thoughts too bold, and my words too brazen. I felt myself start to shrink. Trying to take up as little space as possible. The thing I didn’t realize was: just because I was trying to take up as little space as possible didn’t mean more was available to me. My space was still there and I could take up as much or as little as I wanted.
This idea of space is universal. Too many times, we, as people of color, feel threatened or pressured into making ourselves as small as possible, but the thing about that is: it is our birthright to exist and exist LOUDLY. Exist beautifully! Exist artistically, and most importantly to exist UNAPOLOGETICALLY. That is the beautiful thing about existence. That is the beautiful thing about space. It’s yours!
I acknowledge that myself and many others in this room are navigating this world of spaces and existences with fresh eyes. As I said before, the college transition was not easy. I went through the typical college homesickness. My family and I have this thing we use to track each other’s locations (it’s not as creepy as it sounds) called and I had on alerts letting me know when my family arrives at home. It broke my heart, y’all. It killed me to see all of the alerts. That was hard. Minus all the family stuff, I think what occupies my mind the most was this one question: will I be able to find my people? Will I be able to create my community? I had to acknowledge that it wouldn’t be the same as the one I had loved and been a part of at nobles. I had to acknowledge that I was now entering another space, one that wasn’t necessarily constructed to fit me or people like me. I realized that it was going to be harder to take space. At Harvard, I would have to MAKE it. And the only way I could do that was to be blatantly and unapologetically me.
Impostor syndrome is defined as this: “psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud“. Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved. Individuals with impostorism incorrectly attribute their success to luck, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent than they perceive themselves to be”. At a panel hosted by ABHW, the Association of Black Harvard Women, I asked a question that had been on my mind since I had opened up my admissions letter: “how do you get rid of it?” The truth, my friend Kyra told me, was that you don’t. Someone can tell you as much as they want that you deserve to be where you are. You deserve to be who you are. And you deserve all that you have been gifted. When it comes down to it, the only person that can make this true is you. For people of color, especially, imposter syndrome pervades just about every white space that we exist in. Again, when it comes down to it, you have to know, in your heart of hearts, who you are. And who you are is a person who is deserving, who is intelligent, and who is worthy. KNOW YOURSELF TO SHOW YOURSELF. Self-awareness leads to self-confidence which, when you get around to it, leads us to take and make space. We are black, we are Asian, we are Latinx, we are native, we exist and we will not apologize for existing, even in a world that makes us feel like self-subjugation is necessary for survival.
Make a commitment today and every day to be unapologetic in your living and to take space where it is given and MAKE space where it is not.” —Mikaela Martin ’19