Vic Hogg ’23, Graduate English Address
The Next Step
Vic Hogg, MPP ’23, Graduate English Address
Why did you come to Harvard? We all walked different paths to get here. I came to the Kennedy School from my small town in Michigan as a queer and nonbinary citizen of the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi. I never felt destined for this place. But my application was full of grand visions of justice. I came here on a mission, to get land back to indigenous tribes, and to fight for queer and trans people. Maybe you, like me, imagined the leader you could be and the impact you could have. And maybe you, like me, found that when you got here, your biggest challenge was more like… not knowing how to format an excel spreadsheet, so much for grand visions of leadership. Maybe you, like me, had a quiet voice inside of you that wondered whether you would make it to this ceremony at all.
This became even more real for me five months ago. On December 23, 2022, I was holiday shopping back home in Michigan, when I was shot by two boys in a carjacking gone wrong. As I waited for the EMT’s, my leg went numb, and I grew really tired, and I found myself thinking…… I’m one semester away from graduation. I know that might be weird that I was thinking that, but I doubted whether I would make it here to begin with, and I was so close. I thought, will my family have to attend my funeral instead of my commencement? Have I spent all this time preparing for a future that I won’t get to li?
During our time here, we’ve experienced a pandemic, floods and earthquakes, wars and invasions, daily physical and mental health struggles, and more. When I was in the hospital, relearning how to walk, I wasn’t sure how I’d return here, much less realize the future I’d envisioned for myself. I couldn’t see how my life would get back on track.
But I started to, one step at a time. My mom helped me move from the hospital bed to the chair. The next day I made it to the door and back. When friends flew in from across the country, I’d ask them to join me for a walk every afternoon. They’d look out at the snow and sleet and say something like… “you mean, out there?” But we went every day. Limping through a bleak Michigan winter at a snail’s pace, my mom on one side and a friend on the other, I started to move forward.
I came to realize I didn’t need to see the destination–all I needed to see was one next step. We’re here because we have big dreams, and it can be scary to even imagine reaching them. In moments of uncertainty, look for the next step. You haven't solved immigrant justice, but you can keep doing Duolingo so you can talk to your clients in their own language. You haven't solved residential segregation but you can show up to the community meeting on affordable housing. And when all else fails, you CAN just get a full night of sleep, or eat something other than pizza. Five months ago, it seemed impossible that I would make it to this ceremony, let alone be on the stage with my mom’s hero: Tom Hanks.But here I am.
And while it's me you see standing here today, I do not stand alone. I haven’t taken a step alone for the last 5 months. Clara wrestled with the insurance companies. Ketaki cooked me biryani.Bethany managed my entire calendar. Countless friends, family, and strangers have come through for me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. There will come a moment for each of us where we realize we can't do it alone, we’ve never done it alone, and we shouldn’t do it alone... Class of 2023, I want you to hear me: we need each other.
In your moments of doubt, who was there with you? Maybe it was a friend offering dinner, a call home, a mentor with sound advice. The poet Gwendolyn Brooks wrote, “we are each other’s harvest: we are each other’s business: we are each other’s magnitude and bond.” I was fortunate enough to find my harvest here at Harvard.
In the process of chasing your dreams, you will need people to comfort you, to coach you, to tell you that there’s spinach in your teeth. When you find yourself in your own cold Michigan winter, you will need people to walk alongside you. Some of those people are here today.
So, this is it. In a few moments we will take our next step, out of these gates and into the world. We don’t know what lies ahead. But next time you find yourself wondering if you can face the challenge, today is your proof. We made it and we’ll make it again: one step at a time, and never alone.