Annual Customs Speech: A Matter of Perspective

It wasn’t until shortly before meeting in Marshall Auditorium on the first night of Customs week that first-year Gabe Sekeres ‘22 was forewarned of what he was about to hear. His CPs told him he’d hear how “‘one person in your class did this, this and this.’”

Sekeres, in fact, is referring to Haverford Vice President and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Jess Lord’s inaugural speech of Customs, an annual tradition now in its eleventh year. Intentionally placed on the night first-year students arrive, Lord quickly lists some of the most impressive achievements of those in the new class before him. He mentions no names or background information, choosing instead to focus on the notable feats themselves. For Lord, it is not only a way to celebrate the new faces, but a chance to bring the class together and remind them of a common goal.

“I try to indicate, in some way, the qualities we saw in every single person who comes to Haverford, so people have an idea of what a remarkable opportunity they have and how honored we are that they, individually, are here and what we are collectively working towards,” said Lord. “We don’t admit people as rewards. We’re not rewarding people for what they’ve achieved. We’re not admitting people for what they’ve accomplished in the past. Admission is actually an invitation to join this community.”

For some, however, this intention may get lost in Lord’s words. Especially for Sekeres, who felt increasing pressure with the daunting list.

“Personally, on one level…it’s bad is if you don’t get something called out [and] you feel bad about it. But also…for the people that do get one of their accomplishments called out, there is kind of an expectation that you’ll be like, ‘Oh yeah, that was me,’” said Sekeres.

Elizabeth Teng ‘20, a PAF, said that she also felt Lord’s well-meaning attempt creates concern for students.

“[During freshman year] I kept thinking that I wasn’t actually good enough to be at this school and that everyone around me was much more qualified. Hearing that speech was really overwhelming…this many people were valedictorians and I barely made it in,” said Teng.

While Teng feels that most of the people who hear the speech feel like they are not special enough, she said that she also understands Lord’s good intentions and why there would be a disconnect between his intent and the way it is received. Teng, like many students, experienced a significant life transition when she moved to college, particularly on the heels of harrowing self-judgment during the college application process.

“Part of it is [that he] wants to say how special the class is,” said Teng, “and part of it is [that] Haverford is such a good school. Look, we can pull people who are this accomplished. They want to come to Haverford.”

However, Lord wants to stress that it is not the accomplishments themselves that get people into Haverford, but rather what they signify about those types of students and what they could bring to the community.

“The fundamental reason we take people isn’t because they’ve done these things,” said Lord “What you have done suggests… how you might approach opportunities [at Haverford].”

Eliza Brody ‘21, a first-time Customs Person, sees the speech as nothing but motivation and also offered a suggestion for Lord.

“[The purpose is] to push you to strive to be better,” said Brody. “To see how amazing it is that you are working with these people and that you are going to the same school as [them], because you’re just as smart as them. I also feel like maybe having the speech at the end of the week would be better, just before classes start, as last minute motivation before the year officially begins. That would give the first-years a chance to get to know each other and understand that they all deserve to be here so that they can fully appreciate the magnitude of their peers’ achievements.”

And, according to Lord, better understand their opportunity for growth.

Illustration by Sarah Jesup

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