Archelle Thelemaque, a graduating senior of the College of Communication, delivered the Boston University student commencement speech Sunday in a historic ceremony after it was chosen by a committee of faculty members and administrators from dozens of submissions earlier this year.
In her speech, Thelemaque spoke of her time at BU and her love for the University, as well as her Class.
“The world’s most brilliant minds, who from the moment [they] stepped foot onto this campus, have worked to mold this University into a home fit for a class such as ours,” Thelemaque said Sunday. “We became a campus of activists, calling, marching, working toward justice, becoming who we had always dreamed of.”
Thelemaque’s speech also focused on the effect of today’s current events and political climate on everyone’s daily lives, particularly on how it affects Black women.
In an interview, Thelemaque said she always tries to prioritize being “upfront” about her political views, and said she believes she accomplished this in her address.
“I advocate and not speak for, but represent the views of a Black woman who has the best interests of Black women at heart, or what I believe are the best interests of Black women,” Thelemaque said.
Thelemaque said she applied to be the student commencement speaker because her time at BU had been “holistic,” given the many people she met and opportunities she took advantage of.
“I really wanted to deliver a commencement speech or address that really encompassed not just my own BU experience but that of so many other people,” Thelemaque said. “That was really what drove me to write one, is trying to figure out how to represent and advocate for the community that I love so much in just a five-minute speech.”
Thelemaque said she knew she wanted to attend BU after learning about Posse — a foundation that provides training and mentorship for a small group of diverse students at several U.S. universities — in her junior year of high school.
“I think it was Posse, and just the fact that BU was the perfect school for a person like me with so many different interests that really sold it for me,” Thelemaque said.
Reflecting on the past four years, Thelemaque said while they were challenging, they also held “some of the best moments” of her life.
“The people at BU are what make this school so great,” Thelemaque said. “It’s not just the students or the professors, but it’s the people who greet you at the door at every single residence, and the people that work in the dining halls and just anybody that you meet at BU.”
Jessica Zheng, a rising senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, met Thelemaque in her freshman year through Student Government. She later went on to work with Thelemaque at BU’s Charcoal Magazine, a publication focused on the creative work of students of color.
Zheng called Thelemaque “someone who changes your life.”
She said Thelemaque’s strong work ethic and ability to remind her peers to never lose sight of hope.
“There’s no one else like her and there won’t ever be anybody else like her at BU,” Zheng said. “I really admire her personal strength, and I think that’s something that is often maybe not known about [Thelemaque].”
Angela Onwuachi-Willig, dean and professor of law at the BU School of Law, met Thelemaque when she worked as a student worker in the law school, she said.
She said Thelemaque “seems to excel at just about anything she does” and is “a person of the highest character.”
“She is in particular motivated to do good in the world and to help make our society better,” Onwuachi-Willig said. “I find that to be really inspiring to watch that in a young person.”
Christian Vanleer, a graduating senior from CAS, met Thelemaque as a fellow Posse Scholar before starting their freshman year, making her his “first friend” at BU, he said.
Vanleer said Thelemaque can be described as a “North Star.”
“She is the sense of direction for a lot of the people that she meets,” he said. “She’s able to help guide, excite and really get people passionate about the work that they’re doing while also providing them resources that she has.”
Vanleer said watching Thelemaque deliver the Sunday student commencement address was a “heartwarming” experience.
“It definitely made my admiration for her a lot more realistic,” Vanleer noted. “I was like, ‘Wow, look at the whole community across not even just BU, but these parents here are watching in different states, different countries, all pouring into this young woman.’”
Thelemaque will soon be moving to San Francisco to work at Apple as a public relations specialist, she said.
At the end of her speech, Thelemaque encouraged her classmates to look back on the last four years with joy.
“I challenge us to remember the good,” Thelemaque said to her fellow classmates. “When I was 18 my dream was to come here and build a home. And today I can proudly say that that dream has been actualized.”