by Bea Pearson (’22)

Bea Pearson

It takes one hundred and nine minutes to get from my parents’ house in the woods to the gates of my Forest. The windy road is not very scenic, it doesn’t feature an irresistible snack spot: its highways, backroads, and pit stops are all unremarkable. Yet here I am describing it. I have memorized the twists of the Bypass and the turn onto MLK Drive as not because of where I was coming from, but because I was headed home.

Don’t get me wrong, I cherish my two parents, three brothers, three sisters, and a partridge in a pear tree. My family and I have lived up and down the east coast, forwarding mail from Massachusetts, to Florida, to North Carolina, to New Jersey, and then all the way back again; my favorite memories come from those moments where we were in motion. But I never once imagined myself trading my northern lifestyle for a southern campus framed by Magnolia trees. My family was a tight-knit haven but by my senior year of high school I was yearning for stability. Well, the last four years of Wake have been anything but stable.

What surprised me, is what I would learn in this sea of unrest. For wide-eyed first year me, the calm before the storm went by the name BUILD. a pre-orientation program that was largely BIPOC students coming together to learn about leadership and diversity. We spent a few days munching on Moe’s, another few with local alum, and the last doing all sorts of leadership activities. But at the end of the week, we had a huge dinner for every pre-orientation student. Here, the contrast first came into view. My group was small and mostly comprised of Black students. But other groups like SPARK and Deacon Camp uh, let’s just say they literally paled in comparison; they dwarfed us in size and were largely white. Our eyes were settled on different goals, on different Wakes: while they practiced old traditions, we dreamed up new policies. Soon, this trend would continue.

So, on to first year and like probably everyone my age, I had the typical college experience of decimated friendships, unrequited crushes, and disappointing math grades. I remember getting lost on the way to my FYS tucked away in the maze-like halls of Tribble; I cried over chicken from the Grill station after I bungled my audition for an acapella group. But I experienced the atypical as well: I crowded into the all-too-small Black Student Alliance lounge to reel at the sight of Blackface photos. I choked back tears as I described the realities of campus racism to our then-college president. I was procrastinating in Benson when my friends and I received death threats from white supremacists online. Remember that contrast I noticed at pre- orientation? Here it was again. Most of my peers were rushing Greek organizations or battling with Introduction to Accounting; But me? I was standing in front of hundreds, fervent, trying to name what Black and brown students, faculty, and staff needed to survive. So, in all of this instability and pressure, as I lost track of the normal, I found myself and I somehow found a home at Wake.

It is easy to see this as a list of stresses and breaking points, as something unique and terrible that I had to deal with. But it’s not. I know that every personal triumph made me stronger, every trial expanded my community, and that community deals with these trials every

year. During that first year I met Dr. José Vialba, someone who is now a trusted mentor and friend; after the initial digital scare, I closed my computer and soon we were laughing and sipping on milkshakes, in staunch defiance of racist aims. I clung to campus. I spent hours in meetings arguing about policy; I spoke in front of hundreds about my yearning for better; I searched for and found allies in all of dissension. I was stretched by these moments and stretched into the outline of a strong person and proud demon deacon that I am today.

Often when I relay these stories I am met with discomfort or pitying eyes, but this isn’t a tale of how challenge dragged me down. In chaos and stress, I was built up. Over the next three years I remained uncomfortable. I squirmed as I sat on the President’s Commission for Race and Community; I fidgeted as I helped curate identity-focused programming in the women’s center; I shivered before taking the digital stage with famed friends of Maya Angelou. These moments weren’t about ease but growth. Wake Forest – all of us here – has been doing the same through pandemics, new presidents, and unprecedented change. We have been growing and it has not been easy. All around us, faculty are overhauling curriculum requirements, staff are drafting and redrafting policy, and students are asking for , no, demanding better. This work is exhausting and thankless at times, and as we reckon with our history we also look to an equitable future. In this, the lesson of embracing discomfort as we build a home like Wake is all the more applicable. I leaned into that sensation and its lessons because just like in my childhood, being uprooted allows you to flourish, to seize hold of new fertile ground. For those who also find themselves feeling uncomfortable, find power there–I did.