When Washington University in St. Louis Senior Class President Michelle Wang delivers remarks to her Class of 2021 classmates, 14 members of her East Coast family will be cheering in the crowd.
“With me being first-generation and speaking — well, that’s something they are going to talk about for years to come,” said Wang, of New York. “They are the reason I’ll be up on the stage. Like a lot of children of immigrants, I stand on the backs of my parents who have made so many sacrifices for me.”
Wang’s speech also recognizes the sacrifices her classmates made during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Let’s be honest, it has been an awful year,” said Wang, who is graduating with a degree in global health and the environment in anthropology from Arts & Sciences. “There’s a level of fed-up that everyone in my generation is experiencing. We are frustrated by disparities in health care and other facets of our lives. And we’re exhausted by the political and racial strife all around us. All of this while staring at our computer screens for hours on end and worrying about the health of our families. It has been a heavy weight.”
When elected, Wang imagined the parties and celebrations she would plan for classmates. Instead, she spent the year advocating for expanded mental health services for students; feeding hungry St. Louisans through her nonprofit, St. Louis Food Angels; and providing Mandarin translation services for Asian immigrants.
She did pull off one event though — a senior sunrise at the east end of campus. When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifted restrictions on outdoor gatherings, Wang and her class council scrambled to plan and promote the early-morning celebration.
“We expected maybe 100 seniors would come, but more than 600 students showed up,” Wang said. “The sun was golden, shining on Brookings. For me and my team, it was so exciting to finally see a physical event take place. I met people that I had only seen on Zoom.”
Wang plans to take a gap year, working at Reproductive Medicine Associates of New York, and then apply to medical school. As a physician, Wang will leverage her Asian and LGBTQIA identities to advocate for populations that aren’t always heard.
She also will bring a deeper sense of empathy, one that she and her classmates earned the hard way.
“We have been through something together,” Wang said. “This year has taught us you never know what someone is going through. I think we leave WashU knowing ourselves a little better and appreciating each other a little more.”