Alum Urges WSC Class of 2021 to Be ‘Authentic Leaders’

Logistics expert Dakota Santana-Grace ’11 urged members of the Webb School of California Class of 2021 on June 12 to admit when they need a helping hand and to work to discover their authentic selves.

Some 200 families and 55 graduates – including some who attended virtually – gathered at Webb’s new Centennial Field for the school’s 99th commencement ceremony.

Santana-Grace graduated cum laude from Harvard in 2016 with a degree in government. He is a project leader for the Boston Consulting Group specializing in global package delivery and serves as a leader for PRIDE@BCG, the organization’s LGBTQ+ professional inclusion program.

During the ceremony, he shared with students his rocky first year after Webb when he was diagnosed with a seizure disorder and had to leave college. It was a difficult time, made more so because he had not yet come out to his family.

Through it all, though, he said he was supported by his Webb classmates and faculty, especially Dr. Don Lofgren and Stefanie Plumley.

“Here I was in this moment wholly insufficient to independently chart this time forward,” Santana-Grace said. “But in that time, I learned something that made that seizure worth it. I learned that “I” is an illusion, and I am at my best when I accept I am a ‘we.’”

He urged the graduates to learn from his example.

“Find the humility to accept that you are a ‘we,’” he said. “Finding that humility makes it possible to grab on to the extended helping hand.”

When the pandemic hit, Santana-Grace said he’d almost forgotten that lesson – until he finally reached out to his Webb network and family while living alone and feeling depressed.

Santana-Grace also urged the new graduates to come out.

“It has little to do with being gay and everything to do with becoming authentic leaders, something we so desperately need as a world,” he said. “It is a process where the beliefs you have about yourself – core beliefs – and the expectations others have for you are challenged. It is a process that requires re-evaluating who you are at the core and finding a truer expression of yourself.”

The graduates will have many opportunities for this exploration during their college journeys, he said.

“The next four years will fill you with doubt, confusion, discovery and excitement. The finish line you have for the years ahead will inevitably move. Your academic passions will evolve beyond what you initially ever imagined you wanted to study. Your ambitions will change from what you walked in with as you learn about new careers and new frontiers. And your friendships and love lives will both hoist you up and put you through memorable and formative turbulence.

“My advice to you is to not fight this. Come out. Come out about your evolving view of who you want to be. Find that thing that makes you come alive and be willing to surprise yourselves. We call it commencement because it is the starting line. You can run straight, missing the opportunity to learn more about yourselves, or you can come out, accept the detours, move the finish line.”

The rewards for doing so are great.

“When we do this, we become brighter. We lift ourselves and those around us up. It is not easy. It is scary. And there can be unfair consequences for it. But those are far outweighed, many times and most times, by the joy and opportunities for being yourself,” he said.

The ceremony also featured speeches from Head of Schools Taylor Stockdale, Associate Head of Schools Dr. Theresa Smith and valedictorian Calvin Xu. Class President Gregory Tolmochow announced the Class of 2021 gift would provide funds for students to engage in weekend outings.

Watch Santana-Grace’s speech below or browse our news section for a recording of the full ceremony.

June 18, 2021

11:56 AM PDT