MBA Commencement Speaker: Jessica Sanon, MBA'18

May 13, 2018

Jessica Sanon, MBA'18

My journey at Heller in phases:

Phase 1: Muting her personality

It’s not that I won’t speak

It's not that I don’t have a voice

It’s not that I can’t make up my own mind

It’s just that society has done that for me.

The visible scars of my identity have given people preconceived notions of who I am without my consent… 

For a while, I had this same feeling at Heller. When I looked to my left, to my right, I was the only black woman in my cohort. I missed my first two weeks of classes because of a mental breakdown and fell behind, academically and socially. I was nervous to go to graduate school because I knew nothing about the nonprofit world. So I studied; I studied the sector in addition to financial accounting while working over 60 hours a week. I knew I would be exposed to people who were at different stages in their career and thought I needed to have it all figured out. There was a point where I was close to giving up. If it weren’t for Johnny Charles, the former MBA admissions assistant director, who told me to see it through, I might not be standing here representing the MBA class of 2018! However, it came at a cost:

Phase 2: Modifications

The act of modifying

Alternating my mind that at times conflict with the emotions of the heart

As Baldwin explained, manifested in this constant rage within oneself

I censored my own words

 Policed my own body

Restrained my emotions

Derived from my own teachings

And sacrificed my own values and beliefs... 

There is a part of me that is grateful for my peers like Emily who put on a baby shower for Dareng and his family, for Liz’s wine and cheese birthday parties and for watching shows at the Boston Ballet with Hiroko: those moments made me feel noticed. I felt lucky to be in a room of people who were leading the way in social change—though something was missing: 

Phase 3: “The Intersectional Road” 

If I were standing in the middle of an intersection, I’d hear the hollers of cars, the beeps of impatience, the looks of anger and the sound of privilege. 

The world uniting against me as I am trying to get to my destination.

I fear bravery is no longer enough to handle the dangers of my intersectionality. 

There is more to just increasing the numbers of black folks admitted to the program, and I found myself shifting to one intersectional identity over another. However, I can say there were two pivotal moments I experienced at Heller where my heart no longer skipped a beat but rejoiced in its own acknowledgement. The first time was when our professor asked about the strategy of an online educational program. He called on me and I replied with the correct answer—yet he did not hear me. When another student gave the same answer, one of my peers raised his hand to say that Jessica already said the right answer. The second time, we were discussing cultural experiences, and I talked about the difficulties of being a Haitian daughter growing up in America. One of my peers asked the class to close their laptops and listen, because Jessica was sharing something important. In those instances, those moments, I felt heard. While that did not happen all the time, my lived experiences and passion for learning were enough. I found that who I am, at that moment, with all that I had, was enough.

With that, I began to find pieces of myself that I have lost. And even though I am still finding her, I am no longer walking behind fear nor hand in hand. Instead, I find myself, even if it is just an inch, walking ahead of the fear. 

So to my peers, raise those hands. You will run into another Jessica who will ask herself, “How much can I really reveal and how comfortable can I really get?” 

To the student who knows nothing about the nonprofit sector,

To the student who has a mental breakdown,

To the student who has to choose academics over social gatherings,

And to the student who is beautifully and wonderfully made

Take time to realize the depth of your greatness and

Unmute your personality.

If you cannot speak, let your actions speak for you

If your voice is silenced, author your words on a piece of paper and be read

If you’re indecisive, then let your heart be the one to show vulnerability

’Cause when you look to your left and to your right, if there’s one thing I learned about value proposition, you are a unique opportunity—your presence is beyond priceless. 

I thank God for this wonderful opportunity. Congratulations class of 2018!

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