Cal Senior Zoe Draghi Gives Inspiring Speech: 'A Step Out Of The Shadows'

Cal Senior Zoe Draghi Gives Inspiring Speech: 'A Step Out Of The Shadows'
Photo: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
Senior Zoe Draghi gave a beautiful speech at Cal's annual end-of-the-season gymnastics banquet. Draghi graduated on Saturday and took some time to reflect on the most important lessons she learned from Berkeley and her gymnastics career. Read below via Cal Gymnastics:

"My name is Zoe Draghi, I am--or rather, I was--a senior on the women's gymnastics team.
 
I want to preface this with a few things:

To my team. Thank you. You guys are everything. I love you.

To all the families and friends: Thank you for your sacrifice and commitment and enthusiasm to this team. It has been incredible traveling to Kentucky, Oklahoma, Alabama and Arkansas and being able to see familiar faces up in the stands, and, of course, all of our fat heads (thanks Mrs. Seilnacht). And most importantly, to the parents, thank you for sending your loved ones to Berkeley, so that I could enjoy their company every day, and you might receive an update via text message every 2 weeks.

To all the staff and everyone behind the scenes. Thank you for your often unseen but always appreciated work. We are able to do what we love everyday of our lives because of the invaluable foundation you have built for this program. So to you all, thank you.
 
For the past two weeks, I have had absolutely no idea what I was going to talk about. I figured I was expected to put something nice together about gymnastics: The lessons the hardships taught me. The joy the successes brought me.
 
I can stand in front of you all and give you a nice, empty speech about how the 6:45 a.m. workouts and the endless floor cardio circuits shaped me into who I am today and who I might become tomorrow.
 
But I won't. Not to say it's not true -- but frankly it's just boring, and cliché and it's not going to do anyone here any good.
 
So instead, I am going to talk a little bit about Peter Pan, a bit about a British Lord, but mostly I am just going to talk about myself.
 
My college experience has been, more than anything else, a coming-of-age story. I arrived here four years ago without a clue. I was a trainwreck freshman year. And -- arguably -- I still might be. But I've come into my own a bit since then and I can stand on my own two feet (usually). And it's this transformation that I am primarily going to speak to.
 
The gymnastics program has also transformed dramatically in the short time I have been here. I won't flatter myself so much as to attribute any of that growth to my own doing. My story represents but one piece of the whole, and I'll point to how intertwined our journeys have been.
 
As I just mentioned, I was a disaster freshman year. I had no idea what to do. I couldn't swing bars for my life. I thought I could take stats and bio 1B at the same time. I thought I was going to be a science major…(if you know me, that's funny). I didn't know who my friends were. I didn't know what it meant to be on a team. And I will testify to having the worst case of imposter-syndrome to ever have been diagnosed.
 
Imposter-syndrome -- for those of you who enjoy a secure and healthy self-identity -- is defined by Wikipedia as a "concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a 'fraud',"(and if you know me, that's funny… and very accurate).
 
I did not belong here.
 
I felt like an outsider. I obsessed over the idea that if I just proved myself -- if I proved myself to the coaches, to the team, to myself -- that things would get better. If I only could just stop sitting down my double fulls. Or if I could do better on my next bio midterm.

Or if I could just go one day without the overwhelming fear that my mask might slip, and I might be exposed.
 
The more I felt like this -- the more I needed to prove myself -- the worse things got. I couldn't get my feet under myself enough to take even a step forward. I was losing my passion, my direction, my self. And no matter how hard I thought about it, or how bad I wanted things to change, they wouldn't.
 
And so, since I had concluded I didn't belong, I became a shadow. I set myself aside and I followed those who were meant to be here. I did what she did. I listened to the music she liked. I laughed at what she found funny. Or I studied what she studied. And I became a shadow.
 
And it was perfect, because what else are shadows but imposters of ourselves -- smaller, distorted and less significant versions of ourselves. Empty silhouettes of those who stand tall enough to catch the light. Animate only insofar as their correspondent is. Common enough to expect it to be there, but insignificant enough to forget about it if it's not.
 
I lived as a shadow. Changing owners as situations called for. But never daring enough to take a hint from Peter Pan's shadow and run away with a life of my own.
 
So I hid. Alone. Shaded. Away from the sun and freedom.
 
I wasn't happy, but at least I knew where I stood -- where I belonged.
 
I don't know when it happened or when it might have occurred to me. But I realized what I was doing.
 
This sense of belonging I was so desperate for -- this was not friendship, or community, or comradery. What I wanted so badly was to be the same as everyone else, to fit into this niche I was constructing. Maybe this was "belonging." Maybe this was "fitting in." But this was also captivity. Confinement to a certain model I thought was right or desired.
 
I think this is a danger about the culture of gymnastics, and of our society writ large. We idolize this intangible, nonexistent figure of who we should be. And while chasing this impossible dream, we sacrifice parts ourselves -- our true interests and passions and weird quirks and unique creativity.
 
What is so incredible and unique about Berkeley, is that it taught me instead to embrace these things about myself. It has showed me that being different is good. And that my individuality does not isolate me from others.

My passion for dance, my argumentative nature, my obnoxious enthusiasm for Athenian legal philosophy, my sarcasm, my unwavering stubbornness -- these things give me value, and purpose and recognition. They convince me that I might add to a group and not just assimilate into the shadows.
 
Berkeley has inspired me. And not in its sameness, for uniformity is neither inspiring nor stimulating. It has inspired me in its diversity. I no longer aspire to be that abstract model that fits into our expectations. You truly look up to people who are outstanding -- out-standing. People are great because of their differences. The world ought not to be black and white. You do not "fit" into one exclusive category. You are not "in" or "out." You do not "belong" or not. You are not a person or a shadow. You are your own unique, inspiring, weird, different person that deserved others' recognition. but more so, that deserves your own recognition. You belong to yourself. And you contribute your identity to groups and communities and teams. And we celebrate this uniqueness and we strengthen our community -- our team.
 
This team has provided me a platform to grow. It has allowed me to embrace my individuality, to focus on and foster my own uniqueness and to truly grow. The stronger you are in yourself, the more you bring to a team.
 
This story is in no way unique to myself. Each and every person on this team is different, and talented, and strong and absolutely invaluable.  As we are strong in ourselves, we are stronger in the team.
 
What Cal gymnastics has shown me that if you can get a bunch of stubborn, headstrong, resilient people together, people who share a passion and a goal and will work tirelessly to get there, in spite of everything…then you do something. That is when it counts. When you are a piece of something bigger than yourself, that's what matters. And each clog is vital to the process, but it is the clock that tells the time.
 
There is this poem by Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson. It's titled The Charge of the Light Brigade. It follows a league into the Battle of Balaclava, during the Crimean War. If you're not familiar, you should read it. It became my favorite poem (last night at 2:00 a.m.) while I was writing this…What I take from this, and be it my own interpretation, is the transcendence of unity and comradery over any end-goal or achievement. Theirs was glorious, and they will be remembered for their bravery and their solidarity with each other. Their legacy was their charge not their defeat.
 
So, in a last-ditch effort to pull this all together…In my short time here, I learned to embrace myself for exactly who I am. That I need not suppress my interests or my passions because they are different. That I could become my best self simply by being myself.
 
Once I realized that, my sense of team altered dramatically. A team is not a group of 20 identical gymnasts. When you bring together the right people at the right time in the right place, a team can transcend all expectation. Be they united, and solidary and undivided-- a team is much more than the sum of its component parts.
 
To my graduating seniors, I believe that our legacy was our charge. That we stood with this team for what it was four years ago, and that we--together--rode into the unknown. And maybe not everything went our way. And at times it was a hard road to follow. But we knew what we stood for, and we knew who we stood next to. And I hope that you can be proud of the legacy we left.
 
And our mission is left unfinished. But I am sure this team has a lot more fight in it. So I hope you continuously work to strengthen and take ownership of yourselves. And I hope that you tirelessly pursue your strength in this team. I hope that you carry with you our legacy. And I know you will pursue your own.
 
I am endlessly proud of this team and I will be forever thankful for this experience."

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