Wellington Mackey Keynote Speaker
Yale Law School
Prepared Remarks: Ecosphere of Opportunity
Westchester Community College Scholarship Foundation 50th Anniversary
November 13, 2019
First, I would like to say a special thank you to Dr. Miles and her staff for their gracious invitation. I know the amount of care that goes into planning an event like this. So, the fact that my being chosen as a guest speaker was a part of a meticulous decision-making process does not escape me. I am beyond honored.
Secondly, and because I’m learning in law school to cut to the chase early, I would like to say a special thank you to the Foundation for staying the course. That is for having remained faithful to your commitment for fifty years. I am sure that you have heard it before, but it bears repeating: what you do is vital to the success of the College and its students. Without your assistance, students like me would be unable to overcome the obstacles that we will inevitably encounter. Your support helps us to traverse the shifting sands of higher education with confidence and grace.
Speaking of easy confidence and grace. Last but not least, I would like to give special recognition to that vision on this side of the room, who happens to be my lovely wife, Jessica. Without her, the man you see before you today would not exist. Those words may seem cliché at first blush, but I utter them with the kind of conviction nobody, but the two of us will ever understand. She has walked alongside me unwaveringly through the good and the bad. She is my anchor, my compass, and my lifeboat, all at once. Without her constancy an ingenuity, without her buoyant optimism, and her air-tight resilience, I would have drowned in a sea of failure long ago.
Thank you, babes.
Fifty years! That is a long time to have been in the business of anything. It is a particularly long time to have been in the business of providing educational opportunities to those for whom its virtues and expedience are all too unfamiliar. I would know. I come from a place where opportunity was as foreign to us as any of the celestial bodies hovering above. That my path would lead to a place like Yale Law School was about as likely as it leading to Mars. And yet, here I stand, all in the name of opportunity.
I was born in the shantytown slums of New Providence Island in the Bahamas, a place where dreams of higher education seldom intruded on the humdrum minutiae of daily survival. In that maze of clapboard shacks, stray animals, and twisted metal, nobody bothered to plan for a future that would likely never come. Most could not see past their next meal, if that far, and were thoroughly satisfied with life’s meager endowment of merely living to see another day. I was that dusty-faced, barefoot island boy, drunk on the words of Dickens, Twain, Swift, and the like, who dared to look beyond his circumstances in search of that oh so elusive commodity, opportunity. Flash-forward to many years later, and still on that very quest, I walked. Well, walked may be a gratuitous description. Sauntered? Some might say I stumbled onto the campus of Westchester Community College. I had no idea what to expect from this institution or myself, for that matter. What would this unlikely partnership yield?
What I happily found, was that I had ventured into what I like to call an ecosphere of opportunity. Opportunity that was both alive and vivacious, and moved with all over campus. If you were not paying attention, you might miss it, just like you might easily overlook a natural ecosystem. It was organic; it was fruitful and, most importantly, it was available to any conscientious student without discrimination. There were only two caveats; you had to want it, and once you had it, you had to work hard to maintain it. And for students like me, and like the ones who surrounded me in the Honors Program, in the Kathryn W. Davis Global Community Scholar Program, in the Summer Cambridge Program, in the Beacon Scholar Program…(there were lots of programs) for those who had come as far as I had, the opportunity was ripe for the harvesting.
I found that what Westchester Community College had to offer was a caring and relatable faculty and staff, a competent and resourceful administration, and a vibrant and active Foundation, all working in unison to give the committed student access to this ecosphere. I can say without fear of contradiction that what you do is far from charity – it is an investment that yields incredible dividends which admittedly, often, you do not get to see. That is because the more successful you are in what you do, the further away the students you have helped branch out.
And so, tonight is an opportunity for you as well to see standing before you in the flesh, so to speak, a mere sample of the product of your hard work. On this momentous occasion, I stand in proxy for all those students whose lives you have impacted in such a positive way over five decades. I am confirmation that what you provide is not ancillary but absolutely integral to the continued success of this community and to the success of those who pass through its halls. As a son of Westchester Community College whose achievements are direct results of this Foundation’s wonderful work, I salute you, and I say, keep up the excellent work!
Here’s to another fifty years!