By Melanie Biles '18
Recently, an e-mail went out to the Scripps community announcing that a speaker had been chosen for the class of 2015’s Commencement. The speaker, Sarah Kay, was advertised as “an extraordinary poet and educator who has inspired audiences worldwide.”
In her 2011 TED Talk, Kay performed a poem called “B” as a love letter from herself to her future daughter. The talk, which received two standing ovations, included such lines as, “Getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way / to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air” and, “There’s nothing more beautiful than the way / the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, / no matter how many times it’s swept away.” “B” was eventually turned into its own best-selling book, only adding to the list of accomplishments Kay had to her name.
In 2006, at age eighteen, Kay was the youngest poet to compete in the National Poetry Slam. In the years since, she produced the TED Talk mentioned above (now with almost eight million views online), published her first collection of poetry and worked to take her nonprofit, Project V.O.I.C.E., to all corners of the United States to educate and inspire young adults to express themselves through poetry. She has also written and performed countless poems both at home and abroad, bringing her poetry and her voice to locations as varied as the United Nations, Ghana, India, the Tribeca Film Festival in New York and the 2011 Cannes Lions Creativity Festival in France.
Kay’s next project, however, will bring her to Scripps. The speaker selection process began in 2014 when the junior class representatives, including Mikayla Raymond ‘15, began collecting names and suggestions from the class and came up with a list of possible speakers. One name that seemed to be constantly revisited was Sarah Kay. “Many — myself included — recommended Sarah Kay,” Raymond said. “Sarah is an advocate for women and speaks of her experiences as a woman of color in her poetry. Her pieces are often about women supporting one another. In that way, we felt she truly exemplified our mission at Scripps and would have a positive message to share with the Class of 2015.”
However, this was not the end of the process. After forming the initial list of possible speakers, the senior class co-presidents Vaishali Ravi ‘15 and Sarah Owens ‘15 worked with Denise Nelson Nash in the President’s office to prioritize the candidates in late 2014. Once this was done, they wrote personalized invitations to the top candidates and received a positive response from Kay in early 2015.
“We are very excited to have Sarah Kay as our Commencement Speaker,” Owens said. Her reasons were extensive: not only is Kay considered an advocate for women supporting women, for education and for people using their voices in a positive manner, she has also been performing for over a decade. “Since Sarah is a poet and travels the world speaking, we are confident that the Class of 2015, parents, friends and other Commencement attendees will find her Commencement speech inspiring and entertaining,” Owens continued.
Ravi agreed, adding, “[Kay] is a young, outspoken and passionate individual who pursued a career doing what she loves: spoken word poetry. As we’re about to graduate, we thought Sarah Kay would have a meaningful message about finding our own paths post-grad.”
Currently, the co-presidents are working to schedule a conference call with Kay that will also include the Office of the President and the Senior Class Speaker, who has not yet been selected. This call will be an opportunity for each party to present what they are envisioning for Commencement.
To learn more about Sarah Kay and her work, visit her nonprofit’s website at www.projectvoice.com or search for her poetry on YouTube. Her 2011 TED talk can be found under the name “If I Should Have a Daughter.”