Celebrating our 2022 Graduates

On June 4 we gathered together with community at Marra Farm to celebrate those who will be “graduating” from Y-WE Programs, and becoming Y-WE Alum. It was a beautiful celebration planned by Y-WE’s Youth Leadership Council, and featuring performances and speeches from several Y-WE youth. Check out these impactful remarks from our keynote speakers below. Congrats to all our graduates!

Speech by Athena Fain, graduating Senior

…Wow. It’s hard to believe I’m really here right now.

I joined Y-WE in the summer of 2017, back when I was thirteen years old. The last five years have felt like a lifetime… and honestly, this is probably going to age really poorly, but I feel like… they kind of have been. I don’t mean to say that I’ve seen everything in the world since then, or that I know everything now, but… when I was thirteen, I thought I knew everything. I mean, every thirteen year old does, right?

But I didn’t trust anybody, either. I barely even knew how to trust myself. At the time, I felt like—I felt like the only thing I was good for doing was telling a joke, being somebody’s entertainment. And if I stopped and got serious… people wouldn’t want to be around me anymore. I felt like if you peeled away my layers of jokes and charisma and got down to the bare, there would be nothing left. An empty hole where a person was supposed to be.

My first year at Y-WE didn’t fix that for me. At least, not right away. But what it did do for me was give me the tools to put it into words. I remember my very first open mic, back at Y-WE Create 2017. I watched Lily and Anna present their poems and… I remember seeing just how raw they were, how vulnerable. And I was terrified of vulnerability at the time. I didn’t want to be selfish, to be greedy, to take up space that wasn’t also being filled with laughter—but I thought, at a Y-WE open mic where all the eyes on me were warm and accepting… maybe I could. Maybe I could be vulnerable.

So I wrote some poems. I expressed feelings I’d never known how to express before. I tucked them all away behind locked memos on my cell phone and waited for the next year, where I could share them with the Y-WE community.

I never did read out those poems, though. That sounds a little intense, but the next year, at Y-WE Write 2018, I had a conversation with my fellow keynote, Eridon, that was really impactful to me. We connected on the very first day about both of our struggles with depression, how a lot of the time the two of us felt so bad and gloomy that we didn’t know how to move forward. And Eridon, she said to me that she gets through it by remembering that nothing is permanent. That our sadness, our pains—and our joy, and our excitement—it’s all temporary. It will all be gone soon.

At the time I remember thinking, well, great advice, Eridon. Nice to know I’ll always stop being happy. But it stuck with me. And by the end of that week, I found myself realising that… actually? My sadness was temporary. My feelings of inadequacy, my fear of opening up to people… they were all just stones at a river crossing. I listened to artist talks by Reagan, and Naa, and their vulnerability, too, inspired me—but rather than inspire me to share, it made me realise that there isn’t a single person in the world who doesn’t feel some kind of pain. Everyone struggles. Everyone cries. Everyone has their own journey.

And by the end of camp that year, I wanted… to get better.

It’s pretty much history from there—I put myself into therapy, I opened up to the people in my life. I’ve learned a lot through being in Y-WE. About myself, and about the world around me, too. I’ve realised how much depth there is to each individual person, how a person’s scars aren’t always visible at first glance. More importantly, I’ve learned that a person’s strength, their compassion, their love, that’s not visible at first glance either.

Y-WE is, hands down, the most accepting and freeing community I’ve ever been a part of. And I’ve been in plenty! Growing up, my mom signed me up for all kinds of programs, making sure that I’d spend my childhood outside, nurturing my sense of love for the outdoors, giving me connections, communities to belong to. But Y-WE is different. Y-WE is where I learned how to appreciate myself and others, how to listen, how to trust. Y-WE is where I can step out of my comfort zone and feel like myself, to be vulnerable and trust that everyone else will put in the same energy. I feel… free, when I’m here, like I’ve never feel anywhere else.

All of this is to say that, while I’ve definitely put in the most work in my own personal growth… I couldn’t have done it without Young Women Empowered. They foster a community that is so teeming with love and acceptance, where I can really feel like myself. The people I meet through Y-WE programs are so unlike the people I meet everywhere else in the world—and it’s not like the people here are just special, though that certainly is true as well, or that there’s something in the water.

It’s that… the adults in Y-WE, they care. They care about me, and about every other youth who’s signed up for a program. They know themselves and the world around them and they aren’t perfect, nobody’s perfect, but they listen, and they bring their best selves even on days when they don’t feel like it, and they care, with every inch of themselves. They make this community one that is worth belonging to, in a way that I haven’t seen in any other space.

I’ve changed a lot, since I first came to Carnation Farms in the summer of 2017. I’ve grown. But I’ve kept some parts of myself too. In some ways, I don’t think that hurting, vulnerable thirteen year old girl will ever leave. And I’m glad for that, because she deserves to be loved, and to love herself just as much as I do—and I am so, so grateful, for each and every one of you who has taught that to us. Thank you.

Speech by Eridon Stewart, graduating Senior

Hi everyone. I’m so happy to finally be here. It’s crazy for me to be graduating after being a youth in Y-WE for almost 7 years. A lot has happened, good and bad times fluctuating. Even through the many storms and dark spots, Y-WE has been a beacon for me to look to. They have always held me up, given me resources to thrive and opportunities to explore myself and my potential. I have made countless memories and countless important connections. It’s been nothing less than magical. I can’t put into words how much I will miss everyone I’ve had the privilege of meeting here. As I move on to achieving a higher education, I can only hope to find a community that is half as beautiful as the one I’ve found here. I love you all so much and I can’t wait to utilize the lessons I’ve learned from you all whether that’s gardening or painting or just letting myself be unashamedly joyful and loud. Thank you!

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