Ivy Day Speech: Jewels Rhode ’11
Jewels Rhode, a member of the Class of 2011, delivered the student speech at Smith College’s Ivy Day celebration on Saturday, May 14.
Good morning... I’m Jewels Rhode, a proud member of the vibrant Class of 2011. It is an honor to be able to share my story and express my gratitude for the significant role Smith alumnae have played in my life.
I attended a high school that was labeled as one of NYC’s “failing schools.” Fortunately, I was naturally motivated so I took advantage of the limited opportunities available. However, I was saddened to see the potential lost as other friends dropped out, became pregnant, or went to jail. Even as I graduated at the top of my class, I vowed I would attend a college with extensive resources that would challenge me to reach my fullest potential.
Jane Spencer, a Smithie from the class of 1978 who volunteers in my high school college office, introduced me to Smith. She spoke highly of her Smith experience and was extremely helpful with the application process. I came to visit Smith during open campus, and I was blown away by the trees, clean sidewalks, and stars I can see at night — which is a huge contrast to my beloved polluted NYC. During my visit, I also learned that the town shuts down at 11 p.m. — a trade-off I was willing to make. Smith College was the place for me. When I received my acceptance letter, as well as an extremely generous financial aid package, I screamed and danced around the hallway.
I had heard Smith was challenging, but I thought I’d be fine — besides, I graduated at the top of my class — right? WRONG — I had a hard welcome to the world of Smith where every Smithie was the go-getter and overachieving student of her high school. I was full of self-doubt as I quickly realized I wasn’t prepared for the academic rigor of Smith. However, with the help of supportive faculty, resources like the Jacobson Center and the Spinelli Center for Quantitative Learning, and working incredibly hard, I was able to regain my confidence.
One of my most influential professors is my adviser, Benita Jackson. One day while in her office, she said, “You know, Jewels, you could have received an A in this class.” (I was confused; I received an A- and thought that was great.) During high school, most of the teachers did not hold students to high standards, they just wanted you to pass. However, Benita realized my capability and would not accept anything less.
My introduction to the power of the Smith network was when I was applying for an internship at the Ford Foundation. I learned of a Smith alumna and trustee, who works there. When I mustered up the courage to e-mail, I received the encouraging reply, “I will look after your application.” I was thrilled (and intimidated) when I learned I had been chosen for the internship! As I developed a closer relationship with my supervisor Linda Charles Class of 1974, I soon realized that not all professionals were up-tight and mean. And, I was amazed at how Linda took charge at meetings. I remember thinking, “Wow, this is what I have to look forward to... she’s fierce.”
Professionally, this internship brought to my attention the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS in communities all over the world and influenced me in several ways:
- I was compelled to start Act Now, an HIV/AIDS peer educator group that targets at-risk youth. I love that this organization has grown from an idea in my head to a sustainable program whose impact will last long after I’ve left campus.
- For my junior year abroad — thanks to the generosity of alumnae — I studied community health in Durban, South Africa. While there, I lived with a Zulu family, visited clinics, hospitals, schools, and was able to work with an organization that provides HIV education to youth in townships.
- In January with the help of a grant, close friends and I volunteered with Springs of Hope, an HIV positive women’s support group in Kenya. What little money they raise from the sales of hand-made jewelry is used for food, healthcare costs, and school fees.
I am the first in my family to go to college, travel abroad, and return with stories to share. Studying abroad in South Africa and volunteering in Kenya were formative experiences for me. Having the chance to work and interact with these communities, I was struck by their resiliency, and their resourcefulness with what little they had. This experience made me so appreciative of everything that I have. Even with the opportunity to travel recreationally, it would not be the same as being able to volunteer and immerse myself in the culture.
It’s one thing to experience something, but to gain conceptual knowledge in a classroom places that experience in context and gives it deeper meaning. The intellectual discussions that take place at Smith provided me with greater insight into my identity, encouraged my critical thinking on complex issues, cultivated my passions, and empowered me to want to make change.
With the help of alumnae I’ve received funding for books, emergency medical expenses, conferences, internships, and study abroad. Yet, my story is not unique — over 60 percent of Smith students are on financial aid and benefit from Smith’s generosity and yours.
Initially, I came to Smith because I saw it as a place where I could reach my fullest potential. However, it has done way more than that. Smith has made me unstoppable! No matter how “disadvantaged” my background may be, it won’t be a deterrent to accomplishing my goals. Do you know why?
- Because I am tenacious, competitive, and confident...
- because Smith College has given me connections I wouldn’t have otherwise...
- and because I have a strong network of powerful women by my side.
I thank the Smith alumnae who donate to the rich pool of resources the college offers, who provided me with advice along the way, and those who will help me in the future. I look forward to giving back to Smith because I know that no matter how much I give, you cannot place a value on providing a world class education for women of all backgrounds and the cultivation of future world leaders!