This is the first installment of the “Voices” column, intended to showcase voices less often heard on campus through submissions both traditional and creative. For more information about submitting to this column, check out our policy in the “About” section of the website.
Walter Hawkins, a prolific gospel songwriter and choir director, released my favorite song in the early 1990s, “Thank You Lord.” The first verse proclaims, “Tragedies are commonplace / All kinds of diseases / People are slipping away / Economy’s down / People can’t get enough pay./ As for me, all I can say is / Thank you, Lord for all you’ve done for me!” The lyrics of this classic are still germane today and they perfectly express a valuable sentiment I’ve adopted in my life: gratitude. As I’ve gotten older, I have grown to depend on my singing voice to proclaim that, while life isn’t perfect, I am still grateful.
I’ve been singing in organized groups since I was 13 years old. According to my younger brother, my relentless singing was quite annoying because I sang everything from the Top-40 music that played on the radio to TV commercial jingles. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t sing. While singing has been a natural way of articulating gratitude, joy, and happiness, it is at this time in my life when I have come to trust the value of those expressions. Singing has become a reliable way to externally demonstrate the emotions that I’m experiencing internally.
As my 11th anniversary as a staff member at Wesleyan approaches next month, I recognize that this institution has provided me the opportunity to let my voice be heard in new and exciting ways. During my time at Wesleyan, I have had the occasion to realize a personal goal and sing the National Anthem to open several sporting events. I have been honored to share musical selections at the Edgar Beckham Helping Hand Awards ceremony and, in the past several years, have been invited to sing at the campus-wide celebration of the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Back in 2004 when I started at Wesleyan, I never expected that these opportunities would materialize. As Associate Director of Career Development and Campus Outreach, I am delighted (as I speak with students about preparing for life after Wesleyan) to use my experience here as an example to highlight that it is possible to employ your professional skills and personal interests while working at one organization.
I’ve experienced incredible moments while at Wesleyan. I’ve developed special relationships with students and alumni that will last for many years to come. Students have confided in me about their encounters in the classroom and discoveries made in the workplace. I’ve listened to students speak about heartfelt desires and watched them work diligently to pursue them by taking risks and exploring new opportunities. There is nothing like getting that call or email from someone who worked hard to create that targeted cover letter and ensured that their resume was perfect to share that they got an internship or job offer! They often express gratitude to me for our work together; I’m quick to remind them that they did the heavy lifting to manifest the desired result. Those are undoubtedly the most rewarding moments.
I’ve worked in two departments at the University, Human Resources and the Wesleyan Career Center. I’ve had the occasion to shout for joy due to professional triumphs like successful system migrations, sharing in student successes, and program implementations. Unfortunately, I’ve also endured troubling occasions where my voice was used to express discontent and confront injustices. It’s Wesleyan where I’ve witnessed microaggressions, committed against both others and me. It’s Wesleyan where I’ve been disrespected and ignored. It is also Wesleyan where I have learned to use my voice to boldly speak up at those times. Wesleyan is the only organization I’ve worked for where I’ve felt, as a professional, that the culture encourages open communication about all topics, including those that might cause discomfort. Human rights activist Malala Yousafzai said, “When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.” I believe that. I believe that even if I don’t expect the person I’m facing in open dialogue to be receptive of my words, I believe in the power of my voice. My friends and colleagues at Wesleyan (past and present) have helped teach me and encourage me when I’ve needed a boost. Together, we have built confidence from those difficult moments. We have allowed them to empower us to never give up and believe that we can move the needle toward justice, one voice at a time.
I have learned to understand that those moments of discomfort have been (and will be) necessary. Musically, dissonance is often inserted into a musical phrase; the result reflects an incomplete combination of tones. A moment of dissonance may initially sound troubling, but in the context of the whole musical piece, the dissonant moment represents the full complexity of the musical message. In gospel music, the alto part provides the glue that joins the harmony together. The alto part is sometimes complex and moves in tandem with the other parts. The alto part may also move independently to strengthen the message of the music. As an alto singer and as a professional, I have learned to expect dissonance and to be comfortable with it; comfortable with moving through complex situations and in tandem with others. I am committed to making my voice heard no matter the situation or circumstance. While employed at Wesleyan, I’ve shed tears of joy in celebration and tears of sorrow in moments of hurt, anger, and disappointment. In spite of it all, I love this place and will carry the lessons I’ve learned with me forever to speak truth and light in all situations.
The chorus of Walter Hawkins’ “Thank You Lord” states, “It could’ve been me / Outdoors / No food / No clothes / Or all alone / Without a friend / Or just another number with a tragic end. / But You didn’t see fit to let none of these things be.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
For all things and in all things, I will forever lift a loud voice of gratitude.
Hall is the Associate Director for Career Development and Campus Outreach at Wesleyan University.