Wagner College bestows upon its top student the Dr. Donald W. Spiro Award for Best Academic Achievement, the most prestigious award given at Wagner, recognizing outstanding academic and co-curricular achievements. Heather Wolf is the 2015 Spiro Award winner.
Good morning President Guarasci, Dr. McNair, professors, honored guests Dr. Wes Moore and Dr. Aletta Kipp Diamond. Hello to all of the parents, friends and families. Most importantly, hello to the Class of 2015.
Before I begin, I’d like to thank my amazing parents and three older sisters for attending one final graduation ceremony. This is my family’s 11th commencement and, as fun as they are, I figured that, as the youngest of the Wolf Pack, I should make things a little interesting — so, hey, why not give a speech? And a very, very special thank you to my wonderful 93-year-old grandmother seated in front of me, who has always emphasized the importance of diction and eye contact. Grandma, there is no one who can deliver a speech better than you, but I will certainly do my best to make you proud.
A non-Wagner friend once told me that graduation is the time when you look to either side of you and realize, “I don’t know half my classmates.” That’s not the case at Wagner. Some might argue that it’s simply due to the size of the school, but I know that’s not the reason. It’s because at Wagner, we actually take the time to get to know each other. There’s a unity that brings Wagner students together that is hard to put into words. But if you look around, you’ll see it. It’s that unity that inspired me to engage with the community here, and it’s that unity that gave me the confidence to do it.
While at Wagner, I became a fan of the popular blog, “Humans of New York.” The concept was simple: A photographer walked the streets of New York introducing himself to strangers, taking their photos, and listening to their stories. Later, he posted a picture of the person online paired with a quote from their conversation. Each day, I found myself surprised and impressed by the incredible stories of these seemingly ordinary people.
I began thinking that Wagner could benefit from a platform like “Humans of New York.” Wagner may be a small college, but there are so many diverse individuals on this campus with incredible stories — stories capable of changing your perspective or bringing you to tears. The unity of the Wagner campus allows you to feel safe and supported and capable of sharing your story.
This Wagner unity was instilled in us from the moment we set foot on campus, when a swarm of caffeinated, talkative and somewhat intimidating upperclassmen grabbed our belongings from our parents’ overstuffed minivans and lugged them up 14 flights of stairs, just so we wouldn’t be stressed out by one more thing on our first day of college. And then, faster than we could blink, we became the ones cutting our own summer vacations short to carry items for the next group of wide-eyed students while insisting that we never looked anything like them.
The unity was reinforced just a few days after move-in when our class’s freshman orientation was cut short and we spent all night in the gym as Hurricane Irene pummeled Staten Island. But it was the best orientation we could have had. I excitedly walked into the gym with the few friends I had already made, and walked out the next morning with many more.
Two years later, I had developed life-changing friendships with students from all walks of life. Despite this, I was still curious to learn more about the students I didn’t get to see every day. I felt that there were so many lessons to learn from each other, if there was just a way to share our stories with the entire campus. That is what inspired me to create “Humans of Wagner.”
At first, I didn’t feel qualified to create something mirroring “Humans of New York.” I suggested it to a few friends who I knew excelled in photography, and their responses were all similar: “Ehh, sounds really cool, but I think you should do it!” With the encouragement of those friends, I decided to go for it myself, and I’m so glad I did. Before Wagner, I wouldn’t characterize myself as someone bold enough to put myself out there and embark on this project. But after three years at Wagner as a track and cross country athlete, resident assistant, sorority sister and occasional Completely Student Productions gala host, I felt empowered and ready for the challenge.
Creating “Humans of Wagner” proved to be one of the highlights of my time here. I was able to hear people’s stories and, better yet, share them with the rest of campus. It was through this blog that I began to feel even more connected to the Wagner community ... and I was finally given a reason to walk up to strangers and try to make new friends without looking like a crazy person.
As more and more people began to follow “Humans of Wagner,” I felt the Wagner community become even more connected. “Humans of Wagner” emphasized something that all Wagner students do regularly, but perhaps never acknowledged before. Wagner students see each other for more than what we do, but for who we are.
We are athletes, performers, educators, scientists, artists, businessmen, future lawyers or doctors, leaders, philosophers … We may be different in what we do, but we all have a piece of that same Wagner heart. It’s that heart that inspires us to volunteer throughout the world, take part in Wagner Cares and the Port Richmond Partnership, donate our time and energy to raise funds for numerous organizations and foundations. It’s with that heart that we cut our summer vacations short to carry those ’fridges up 14 flights of stairs.
Wagner’s heart is not visible in the photos posted on “Humans of Wagner.” The photos are just appearances. It’s the stories beneath the surface — or, in this case, the post — that really matter. From just looking at those photos, you’d never guess that the tall, thin girl in your class was actually celebrating another month since open-heart surgery, or that the beautiful, athletic student is actually balancing life as a young mother along with her academics and team commitments. You might not realize that the confident man you see on campus with his boyfriend wasn’t able to come out of his shell, or his closet, until he felt the embrace and support of the Wagner community around him. It’s our stories that really matter — the stories that led us to Wagner, the stories that we’ve created here, and the stories that we’ve yet to write but will start the moment this ceremony ends.
We arrived at Wagner with different backgrounds, different lives, different stories, different habits and different languages. I STILL think my best friend from Long Island is speaking a different language.
We are different in so many ways, but our aims are identical and our hearts are open. We all aim for success, happiness and purpose. We aim to do good in the world and to make a difference in our communities.
Because of this, I have no doubt our class will go on to great things in the world. We have learned so much from our professors — but, more importantly, from each other. Our time here has shaped us into thinkers, dreamers and doers. Some of us have focused our efforts during college on the Wagner community, while others have impacted the greater community around us, but as we graduate I have no doubt that we will all begin to impact the broader world. Because of who we are and who we’ve surrounded ourselves with these past 4 years, anything is possible. Believe in each other and believe in yourself, because Wagner College believes in you.
This speech isn’t coming from Heather Wolf. It’s coming from the Class of 2015 — the humans of Wagner. It’s about all of the good we’ve done, and all of the good we’ll do, as our stories continue. My story now includes countless Oval days, gazing up at Main Hall and wondering how I managed to end up in such a beautiful place. My story includes graduation ceremonies of my friends who are already Wagner alums, and all the Wagner memories — from orientation, to Wagnerstock, to Senior Week and everything in between.
I’m looking at the Seahawks in front of me and realizing how sad it is that my friend at another school didn’t know half of his classmates. And I’m thinking about how lucky I am to say that my story brought me closer to the talented and intelligent graduates of 2015. I know them because I have a piece of their heart, because I know a little bit of their story. Everything we’ve accomplished, and everything we will accomplish, is due in part to the people sitting under this tent. I don’t see strangers in front of me; I see friends. And I feel connected to each of them by that little piece of Wagner pumping in our chests.
Congratulations, Class of 2015! We did it!
Heather Wolf is a business administration major with a concentration in marketing from Pine Brook, N.J. Not only did she excel academically during her time at Wagner — her cumulative GPA is a 3.97 — but she has left a legacy of student leadership on Grymes Hill. A student athlete on the varsity teams for cross country as well as track and field, she also served as a resident assistant, a member of the Wagner College Community Standards Review Board and a leader in the Alpha Omicron Pi sorority. Wolf has been recognized on both the Dean’s List and the NEC High Honor Roll nearly every semester of her college career, and was elected Homecoming Queen last fall. At the Senior Awards Dinner, held the night before commencement, Wolf was recognized with the Business Administration Award, the Sir Peter L. Cardiello Award for Entrepreneurship and the Dr. Donald W. Spiro Award for Outstanding Academic and Co-Curricular Achievements. She has had numerous marketing internships at Clear Channel Communications, Nest Seekers International and Richmond University Medical Center, and is currently employed as a multimedia producer for Wagner College. Wolf is well known on campus for her contributions as both a HawkTalk blogger and founder of the “Humans of Wagner” Instagram account.