By Que’Mya Brewster, Bedford High School Class of 2023
[Note: This is the speech Que’Mya Brewster presented at the graduation of the Class of 2023 in June. Her speech has a message that is important not only for the people who were at graduation last spring but for all of us today.]
Good evening families, friends, and community members. Thank you for joining us to celebrate the Bedford High School graduating class of 2023. There are more than 200 individuals graduating here today with their own special and unique experiences, so it’s truly an honor to share this moment with you all.
I was off the morning bus at 7, into the JGMS auditorium at 7:20, and off to class at 7:30 for my first day of middle school in a new district. I carried a milk crate full of colored binders, had freshly done hair, and a mom-picked outfit. So far, so good until I looked over my schedule. It was confusing. A six-day class schedule for a five-day school week? It was overwhelming. Too many changes in one day.
One thing that didn’t change were the errors made to how my name was pronounced.
“Kwema? Queue-Mia? Last name Brewster?” I can’t forget the classic, “I’m sorry if I say this wrong,” followed by the most phonetically incorrect possibility to ever exist. Some would even say, “I’m not even going to try this one.”
“It’s KAY-Mya but just call me Mya” or I’d even say, “It’s just Mya and the first three letters are silent. Not sure why that is, but oh well.”
I’d say anything to take away the embarrassment. I hadn’t realized my name was unique or even hard to pronounce, but then I met what felt like seven different Sydneys and eight different Ryans on the same day. From attendance and the “I’m still learning names” thing, I could tell I was in for a long year.
From the first week on, I decided to go by Mya. It’s a name easier to remember, easier to spell, and easier to adjust to. So easy that even when I introduced myself to anyone, I’d just say my name as Mya to save others the trouble of having such a “difficult” name to remember. It was easier to make friends as Mya because she could introduce herself and move on.
The name Mya avoided the “where does your name come from?” and the “oh, that’s different” post-introduction conversation. But with such ease, I had stripped myself of my uniqueness, my true identity, my self love, and strength. I had taken a beautiful and original name, broke it in half, and presented that half to the world not realizing with only half my name, I wasn’t my full self.
But as Mya began settling in the Bedford community, she found comfort in others that also had a name that was butchered during attendance. I met beautiful people with beautiful names such as Lamees, Ansh, Aliki, Mihir, Sonja, Abhigna, and Yadkira who can attest to the experiences of a unique name. Unlike me, those individuals and many others encouraged gentle corrections. Until their name was said right, they continued to repeat the correct way to say their names to their teachers. And those moments were empowering.
They had something I didn’t yet hold and that was pride. But even those with names that are easier to spell and pronounce, they’re still unique and taught me a thing or two as well. They hold family history, and culture, and memories, and power.
The name Caitlin means “Pure” in Gaelic, and Gianna – a beautiful Italian name meaning “God is gracious” and Sydney with French-English roots meaning “wide meadow,” and Ryan meaning “king,” and Sally meaning “princess” with its Biblical roots.
Our names are not just letters with sounds. They’re symbols of our identities and representations of our personalities. Names come with stories and stories come from experiences. Your name can be a beacon of hope. A reflection of miracles. An outlet for inspiration. A marking of your dedication. A sign of your strength. And the shelf for your legacy to sit on.
There’s so much power in your name alone, never mind the greatness you’ve achieved and exemplary path your actions show.
To sixth grade Mya who performed in the musicals and sang in the school choir, and got an F in gym and an A in lunch – you have paved the way for someone else to make an appearance. Someone you haven’t connected with in a while. Someone that has watched you from the shadows but is now ready to live her life and grow excited for what the future holds. Someone you’ve made a way for to honor your legacy. Her name is Que’Mya – a name so beautiful and unique. With its own story and experiences to share.
I have no regrets. Mya is still a part of who I am. I didn’t know it at the time, but the Class of 2023 taught Mya a lesson and Mya taught me a valuable lesson. Make the world say your name and make the world say it right. Let the world honor and respect you and all you are. Never change yourself to ease the discomfort of others. Own your name and own it with pride.
So, no matter what life looks like for you after high school, this is your time. It’s a chance for a fresh start in a new chapter. It’s a chance for you to connect with yourself and share you and all YOU are with the world. It’s an opportunity for a clean slate to make a name for yourself.
So, I ask you. What part of yourself are you dimming to make others comfortable? And when will you allow them to step into the light?