Antonio Oliveri '19 has been selected as the student speaker for the College's 2019 Commencement ceremony. A double major in political science and English with a concentration in literature, Toni has distinguished himself as a campus activist, leader and participant in a wide variety of organizations and activities. He will be the College's first male student Commencement speaker since that tradition began in 2014.
Rebecca Haag, a 1974 alumna of the College and an expert in social policy, will deliver the 2019 Commencement main address. (Click here to read that announcement.)
Toni remembers experiencing extreme culture shock upon arriving in Aurora as a first-year student from his home in New York City. "I felt like an outcast at first. I was worried I wouldn't have anything in common with anyone. I hadn't really had the experience of such a tight-knit community before," he remembered. "I also wasn't aware of all of the rich traditions we celebrate at Wells," he added. Toni was fortunate to be taken under the wing of Michelle Lee '16 and three other students he affectionately referred to as his "Wells Women." With their example to guide him, Toni learned to embrace the great change in his situation, becoming a leader in the campus community, while also making it his mission to immerse new students in the the rich traditions of Wells.
Toni has served at various times as the class of 2019 president, Community Court representative, and executive board chair of Dance Collective; he has also been a peer leader, library archivist, student activities coordinator, and senior poetry editor for the Chronicle (the College's literary journal).
As one of the only Korean-Americans on campus, Toni has made it his priority to introduce his peers to the rich culture of his heritage, and even spent a semester studying abroad at Yonsei University in Seoul. "My mother, Im Su Jung, has been a wonderful source of love and support for me throughout my time at Wells. My grandfather, Im Jaesong, recently passed and the loss definitely propelled me forward in thinking about my Korean identity," he said. "I care deeply about family, history and tradition, and at Wells I was able to find all of those things in abundance while also serving as the unofficial ambassador of Korean culture in our community here, and I take great pride in that."
His English thesis, titled "The Women Who Birthed the Lexicon of Han," seeks a reclamation of the Korean religious and cultural concept of han. His political science thesis—"The Road to Sampo: Korean Unification and a Dissident Youth"—hypothesizes a future reunification of the Korean peninsula, imagining Korea's Generation Z population as a vehicle for political and societal change.
So, does Toni miss the relative anonymity afforded by city living? "There are some things that I do miss, but the sense of community here is much more meaningful for me," he explained. Toni plans to continue his commitment to civic engagement by staying in the Finger Lakes region after graduation. "I think I can really make a difference here," he related. "I would like to work in higher ed or local government, so that I can put everything I've learned at Wells into action and continue to give back."
Toni characterized his emotions upon hearing the news of being selected as student Commencement speaker as "genuine shock, followed by a flood of overwhelming excitement," he said. "I remember Professor Shilo McGiff, who helped with my [speaker application], jumping up and hugging me when I told her the news. That's when it all really hit me. It's the greatest honor I can imagine: to have the opportunity to represent and thank all of the wonderful people who make Wells such a truly wonderful place. I arrived here feeling like the ultimate outsider, only to find I was home," Toni said.
Wells College's 2019 Commencement ceremony will begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 18, on the lawn and steps of Macmillan hall in Aurora, N.Y. In the event of inclement weather, proceedings will be held in the Frances Tarlton Farenthold Wing of the Schwartz Athletic Center. Additional information, a schedule, and more can be found at wells.edu/commencement.