By RAE HAMAKER ’10
Returning to Hendrix 11 years after she graduated, Jessica Pettitt ’96 came bearing a message of change. She emphasized that change begins with the individual and flows outward, tweaking an idea from Gandhi to help explain her personal philosophy to current Hendrix students – “Be the Change You Want to Be.”
Pettitt was the featured speaker of a Hendrix Alumni Doing Democracy (HADD) program titled “The State of Our Nation” that took place in November. She began the program by describing her call to do social justice work, explaining her disagreement with what she called “drive-by diversity training,” which she saw as a feel-good approach that failed to affect any real change. “Social Justice, on the other hand, is recognition of differences over the long term and affecting change individually within ourselves,” she said.
Pettitt, a sociology major at Hendrix, said her major allowed her to receive an academic sense of how people interact but that social justice work was what helped her to really understand those interactions.
“You need to be uncomfortable to change,” Pettitt told the room of students, further emphasizing the individual’s role in changing the world by encouraging her audience to change themselves. This, she said, would slowly change things within their realm of influence. Even small changes count, she told the group.
As part of her message of change and activism, Pettitt also spoke of “adultism” and the silencing or subordination of the voice of young people as one of the biggest obstacles students face today. Additionally, she described a pressure on the “Millennials” to fix and change things, saying that older generations blamed the current one for not doing enough to fix things and for being apathetic. Pettitt, however, asserted that apathy doesn’t just happen but is reinforced by previous generations.
Pettitt said that young people do have a voice and something important to contribute to the world and that if you want something to change you have to work to cause change on an individual basis, to truly “Be the Change You Want to Be.”