Human rights activist Marina Schuster speaks for Bhutto-Ispahani lecture series.
Good afternoon, President Lieberman and esteemed guests. My name is Wendy Lau, and I am a proud alumna of this outstanding University. I am so thrilled and honored to be here today to be a part of this momentous occasion. When I was first asked to speak, I was asked to give a speech about my La Verne experience. Then, I was subsequently very kindly asked to keep my remarks brief as we are on a strict time line.
Now, as an attorney, I might have taken that as a little bit of a dig at the tendency for long-windedness that can afflict those in my profession (not me, of course!), but I instead choose to believe that asking any member of the Leo family to talk about their La Verne experience in just five minutes is like asking a person in love to tell you why they love their significant other. To borrow a quote, “From the outside looking in, you can’t understand it. From the inside looking out, you can’t explain it.”
So, in order for me to tell you about my La Verne experience, it’s important to tell you that this story – my La Verne story – is a love story. I came to the University of La Verne in the fall of 1995 as a sophomore transfer student from the University of California at Irvine. Although I had made wonderful friends at UCI and received good grades, I just didn’t feel as if I fit in. So, about two-thirds of the way through my freshman year, I made the difficult decision to transfer and re-start my college career. While I was nervous about the choice, I knew the minute I attended Orientation that La Verne was the place for me. From that moment forward, La Verne became my home away from home, and I became a part of the Leo family.
At La Verne, I found that I was more than just another student or just another number in the system. I mattered. Professors knew who I was and wanted to help me to develop into the best version of me possible. During my first year at La Verne, I happened to take a speech and debate class with Bob Rivera. There were about seven students in my class, and one day, for one reason or another, I opted not to attend Bob’s class. At UCI, this would not have been a big deal at all. There were typically hundreds of students in my lecture classes, and attendance was rarely, if ever, taken. I was sure that missing a day of Bob’s class would be just fine. That is – until I ran into Bob in the student center later that day. Bob came over to me in his signature powder blue suit, looked me straight in the eye, and asked why I had missed his class. I was taken aback that he 1) remembered my name, 2) noticed I hadn’t been in class, and 3) cared enough to ask where I was. I stumbled through some lame story about my car breaking down, and Bob cut me off and said, “The world is not interested in your excuses, and neither am I. I’ll see you in class.” Suffice to say, I never missed another one of Bob’s classes, and his words continue to echo in my memory, reminding me that excuses are unacceptable and active engagement in life is absolutely necessary.
At La Verne, I found some of my best friends and greatest mentors. As I’m sure many of you Leos can attest, friends made at La Verne stay with you for life. They are your best man, your maid of honor, your husband, your wife, your forever friend. They are the people that “get” what makes La Verne so special, and they are the people that make up the tight-knit community that is Leo Country. As a transfer student and a-once-upon-a-time-not-very-girly-girl, I never thought I would join a sorority. In fact, I turned up my very ignorant nose at the notion. However, as fate would have it, being at La Verne meant being involved. And being involved meant I was on the sororities’ radar as a potential new recruit. To my own surprise, I ended up joining a local sorority, Phi Theta Chi, which later affiliated with an international sorority, Phi Sigma Sigma. Contrary to the media’s all-too-often negative portrayals of Greek life, being a member of a sorority and of the La Verne Greek community helped me to be the leader that I am today. I was taught how to communicate effectively, recognize others, give back to the community, and be a team player.
When I graduated from La Verne in 1998, I joined the ranks of thousands of alumni who came before me. And although I was excited to be a college graduate, I never once thought that my La Verne story was over. Far from it. Less than two years after I walked across the Commencement stage, I was back on campus volunteering as my sorority’s advisor. I served as the advisor for nearly a decade while simultaneously beginning my career as an attorney, moonlighting as an occasional adjunct professor in the honors program, and conducting leadership workshops for students. This led to my involvement with the Alumni Governing Board, and most recently to my appointment to the Board of Trustees. Going to school at La Verne is more than just a means to an end – it is the beginning of a love story that has its roots in the belief that each one of us can, and does, make a difference. At La Verne, we learn to ensure that our actions reflect our values, we strive to create a community that embraces diversity, we encourage lifelong learning, and we believe and practice leadership through service.
As we gather here together today, I am so proud to be a part of the Leo family. It is with the warmest regards that I welcome each and every one of you home, and it is with the greatest pleasure that I welcome our newest member, President Devorah Lieberman, to our family. May your La Verne story be a love story as well!