Ro Curtis speaks in front of video screen

“Trust is belief in action”

College wasn’t all smooth sailing for Ro Curtis, who delivered a convocation speech to the most recent class of SESP Leadership Institute graduates

After four years of “caffeine, tears, emotional support, and contempt for the pace of the quarter system,” Ro Curtis (BS22) turned in their final papers and earned a Northwestern University diploma. 

Curtis, who uses they/them pronouns, wanted to say it was a breeze—that their time as a member of the SESP Leadership Institute gave them all the support they needed to navigate a challenging new world. But like many college students, Curtis had ups and downs. And to cope with an especially hard period, they took several months off from school.

Curtis returned to graduate and deliver an honest and moving convocation speech to the most recent class of SLI graduates. Below is an excerpt.

When I was a student, I didn’t need to believe in myself; I just needed to meet the next deadline and produce the assignment. Once I didn’t have deadlines dictating my time, I was left with the anxiety, pressure, and stress that led to my self-doubt, burnout, and internal havoc.

Now I’m trying to define what it means to be free from this environment. My friend Daniela [Hernandez] said, “It’s one thing to believe in yourself, and it’s another thing to trust yourself.” I agree. Trust is belief in action.

To trust myself, I had to learn that I could believe in myself. First, I had to take advantage of my time off and prove that I could make the decisions that were best for me by scheduling things like appointments, meals, and rest.

Next, I took an honest look at how I was doing and where I was, so I could know where I wanted to go. Therapy, journaling, movement, art, and music were my most powerful self-reflection tools.

Finally, I had to rely on my loved ones and connections to ground me. Spending all day, every day in my own mind revealed so much to me about myself, but I couldn’t be honest about my growth without those closest to me witnessing and congratulating it.

I have come to trust my own innate wisdom and expertise because I know that I became a Northwestern graduate through and with so many others invested in my uprightness. I take deep comfort in that I am not here alone.

Octavia Butler once said, “There is nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns.” Just like the sun, which took its time becoming the brightness that it is, we can create and become suns over time—and in our own time.

This journey you’ve been on, navigating the intense pressure of being a Northwestern student, has birthed those moments of brightness and foundations of who you are today. Who you are now is not who you’ve always been. And it’s not who you always will be. But it is the foundation for you to become who you’re meant to be.

I don’t know where you’ll all go or be in this life, but I hope that it will be in a new direction, actively moving toward a wider, larger, more expansive space where it’s never a question as to whether someone belongs.

That process of becoming is not an easy one, but I encourage you to trust yourself.