René LaPointe Jameson has received the 2022 Wendell Phillips Award and will deliver the Wendell Phillips Address at the Baccalaureate Ceremony during commencement weekend. The Committee on Student Life selected LaPointe Jameson, a senior, for the award after a months-long nomination and audition process.
The Wendell Phillips Award was established in 1896 as an opportunity for seniors in the graduating class to reflect on their cohort’s experience at Tufts through the lens of civic engagement and public responsibility.
University Chaplaincy Program Manager Nora Bond explained the significance of the address for the Tufts community.
“The Baccalaureate Ceremony is the one time a senior speaks publicly during Commencement Weekend,” Bond wrote in an email to the Daily. “To have a student voice sharing their Tufts experience, galvanizing their peers to more civic engagement, and delivering their speech with compelling energy reminds the Class of 2022 of all they have accomplished and all they will make true in the world.”
LaPointe Jameson was selected after auditions in Goddard Chapel where she and three other candidates — Kathryn Lazar, Chidiebele Ikpeazu and Zahra Rizvi, all seniors — performed 10-minute versions of their speeches.
CSL member Sofia Friedman described how the committee selected LaPointe Jameson for the award.
“First, seniors are self-nominated or nominated by faculty and peers,” Friedman, a senior, wrote in an email to the Daily. “Then, seniors are invited to send in their resume, an essay explaining their reasons for applying, and a video giving a taste of the speech they would like to give. … Lastly, finalists are invited to audition in-person, giving a ten minute version of their speech to an audience of CSL and community members.”
LaPointe Jameson said she was excited to be nominated but almost decided against applying. Her mother eventually convinced her to apply.
“I think it was [9 p.m.],” LaPointe Jameson said. “I finally got back from work for the day and [was] doing homework, and I called my mom. I was like, ‘Should I do it? I’m exhausted. Can I not?’ And she was like, ‘You’re gonna regret it if you don’t. You will want to do this.’ And I was like, ‘You’re right.’”
LaPointe Jameson considered multiple options before settling on a subject for her speech. She described the original angle of her speech as “Amanda Gorman-esque,” referencing the National Youth Poet Laureate who famously delivered her poem “The Hill We Climb” at President Joe Biden’s inauguration in 2021.
“We do climb this hill every day to get to class, and we make a choice to show up for each other and climb this hill, and I thought that was something that I could play around with,” LaPointe Jameson said. “It didn’t fit.”
Mulling potential speech topics, inspiration struck as she reflected on the Class of 2022’s first days at Tufts.
“I kept thinking about matriculation for the Class of 2022,” LaPointe Jameson said. “Our matriculation and actually our pre-orientation period was just terribly hot, like some of the hottest temperatures that happened in Medford [and] Somerville, I think, on record at that time. … I was like, I think I should play into this and the concept of the pandemic that people would say a lot [about] what is normal and unusual.”
In addition to her speech, LaPointe Jameson was awarded for outstanding experience in public service, which she says she’s been involved in from a young age.
As a Tisch Scholar, LaPointe Jameson points to food justice advocacy as one of her greatest passions.
“I started the food drives in high school and then the gardening, and I think that building local power has to be tied to and is dependent on food sovereignty and access to fresh foods and things that can empower us,” she said.
LaPointe Jameson ultimately revealed that the main theme of her speech is asking what ‘normal’ should look like as the Class of 2022 goes out into the world.
“I think my speech is about having our class reflect on what is normal and how normal can actually be something that’s violent,” LaPointe Jameson said. “So as we move through this difficult time and reflect on the amazing ways we’ve showed up for each other, I think we can be more imaginative, more creative, more grounded in equity and justice and how we want our normal to look moving forward.”