Anna Del Castillo wins Wendell Phillips Award, to speak at Senior Baccalaureate Service

Anna Del Castillo, the 2018 Wendell Phillips Commencement Speaker, poses for a portrait. Courtesy Tricia Bruckbauer

Anna Del Castillo, Tufts Community Union (TCU) vice president, is the winner of the Wendell Phillips Award and will be the senior baccalaureate speaker.

The Wendell Phillips Award, established in 1896, is given annually to a senior who demonstrates skill in public speaking and a sense of civic responsibility.

The Committee on Student Life (CSL), with non-voting administrative support from the University Chaplaincy, selects the Wendell Phillips Speaker, through a six-month process that begins with open nominations and includes nominee applications and finalist auditions. This year, there were many nominations, 19 applications and five finalists — seniors Del Castillo, Made Bacchus, Travis Percy, Ana Karen Manriquez Prado and Rachel Wahlert — according to University Chaplain Greg McGonigle.

Del Castillo, who was nominated by several fellow students, found the initial audition prompt interesting.

“This year’s [prompt] was about the advice we’re given: Don’t talk to strangers,” Del Castillo said. “I thought, so much of my Tufts career has been talking to strangers, so I knew I wanted to write about it and went for it.”

When Del Castillo was chosen as a top-five finalist, she and the other finalists were given the choice to write either a longer version of the same prompt or a social justice message for our time. Del Castillo chose the latter, citing her passion for social justice issues.

“Upon coming to Tufts I became a part of the BLAST [Bridge to Liberal Arts Success at Tufts] program, which is mostly for first-generation and low-income … students,” Del Castillo said. “As the only student in my class from Mississippi and being a Latina, I feel like my experience has been having these identities that are different or not necessarily the norm at Tufts.”

Benya Kraus, TCU president and Del Castillo’s friend, has served alongside Del Castillo throughout the past four years.

Initially holding positions as TCU Diversity and Community Affairs Officers, and now as President and Vice President, Kraus and Del Castillo have worked together on a variety of TCU Senate projects. Among these are the initiative to rename Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day and the movement advocating for tuition transparency and affordability.

They also attend biweekly meetings with University President Anthony Monaco, Provost David Harris and Dean of Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon, where they have “developed a really good rapport to bring up and advocate for student concerns effectively,” according to Kraus.

As senior baccalaureate speaker, Del Castillo hopes to connect with members of her graduating class.

“I want to speak about that, the faces that we don’t see at Tufts and the people who can’t afford to come to Tufts,” Del Castillo said. “Those issues have been central to my experience on this campus, [as well as] trying to create positive change by making Tufts a more inclusive space for students like me who are considered to be nontraditional.”

Post-graduation, Del Castillo will attend the Harvard Divinity School, where she will study the intersection of religion, politics and ethics, in pursuit of a Master of Theological Studies degree. One day, Del Castillo hopes to advocate for fair policies for immigrants and other marginalized communities through exploration of public policy and religion.

Kraus is enthusiastic about Del Castillo’s next journey.

“Knowing her has inspired my own faith, reminding me of where to draw the strength to stand by my values,” Kraus told the Daily in an electronic message. “I think this next educational experience will help her channel the inspiring power she already has to so many more places, using her faith to help heal humanity.”

While Del Castillo said she feels nervous to speak in front of her classmates, friends and family, her apprehension was overshadowed by her excitement to be the Wendell Phillips commencement speaker.

“One thing that makes me feel at peace about it is that so many people that I will be speaking to are people who have inspired the speech,” Del Castillo said. “For me, that takes the nerves away and makes me excited to be able to share this message with people I really care about.”

Correction: A previous version of this article did not identify senior Made Bacchus as one of the baccalaureate speaker finalists. The Daily regrets this error.