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Taryana Gilbeau entered BU as a freshman with just one mission—to get her degree and get out.
“I came here and there’s no other way to put it, I was ignorant about what life was and what coming to BU would be like,” admits Gilbeau (COM’14). “I came here unfocused, a little too big-headed, like any freshman. I was here for my family, and then I wanted to leave.”
Almost four years later, the public relations major’s résumé reads like one of those model students touted in the Admissions Viewbook—a Posse scholar, a resident assistant, a sorority sister, a dancer, and a study abroad student with a semester in Shanghai under her belt. This Sunday, Gilbeau will deliver the student speech at Boston University’s 141st Commencement, drawing on her experiences during her four years here as she addresses fellow graduates and an estimated crowd of 20,000. She plans to talk about the importance of embracing one’s own story, finding a support system, and making the most of your life.
“People always told me I wouldn’t go to a four-year university,” says first-generation college student Gilbeau, who goes by Tori. “My mom had me when she was a teenager, and I come from an urban neighborhood in southern Los Angeles. But being here, I really learned how to love people and care for others. My time here has given me a lot of confidence and has shown me that everything great comes with a challenge. BU humbled me and challenged me in all the right ways.”
Each spring, graduating seniors are invited to submit a potential Commencement address to a faculty committee. This year, the committee weeded through 56 submissions before settling on 5 finalists. Each finalist was then asked to deliver his or her speech in a mock Commencement setting. After careful deliberation, the committee chose Gilbeau. The process included a new twist this year: after the student speaker was selected, all the finalists and their guests were invited to a reception “to celebrate the overall strength of this year’s submissions and to end the process on a positive note,” says Katherine Hasenauer Cornetta, assistant to the dean of students.
Gilbeau has spent much of the week practicing her speech, with her final practice scheduled on Nickerson Field. She has had to learn how to ignore distractions like movement in the crowd and the vocal delay from the audio system.
Born in Los Angeles, Gilbeau moved to Atlanta, Ga., in high school. She came to BU as a Posse scholar. The program, overseen by the Posse Foundation, has sent more than 5,000 leadership-oriented students from urban public high schools to 51 participating four-year colleges and universities since its founding 25 years ago. BU has participated since 2008. Gilbeau says that being a Posse scholar has been “everything, my entire experience.”
“You’re put into this group and you’re told that you will be family,” she says. “You don’t even know these people in the beginning. But they have helped me out with the things I struggled the most with, like making the decision to switch from the School of Management to the College of Communication. They were like my support system.”
The program also encouraged Gilbeau to get involved. She ultimately joined the Fusion hip-hop dance team, became a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, and was a resident assistant at Kilachand Hall. “The school is so big that it’s easy just to go through the motions,” she says. “You have to take full advantage of everything yourself.”
Gilbeau employed that same go-getter attitude to find a way for her family to attend Commencement. She recently launched a fundraiser on Go Fund Me, raising close to $1,200. “People donated who didn’t even know me—they just read my story,” she says. “It was really nice.” Thanks to her initiative—and the generosity of others—her cheering squad on Sunday will include her parents and her grandparents.
Gilbeau has accepted a full-time job with the Posse Foundation in its Boston office. Her job will be helping to recruit, train, and encourage the next class of Posse scholars all the way through college graduation. She recently won the $4,500 Gerald Powers Public Relations Award, given in honor of Gerald Powers (COM’56), a COM professor emeritus of public relations, to help launch the career of a graduating PR student. Gilbeau says the award allowed her to pay the first and last month’s rent on an apartment and to afford a new laptop.
Asked what she’ll miss most about BU, Gilbeau becomes reflective. “Being spontaneous,” she says. “I know I can do that after graduation, but it feels safer here, and I don’t know if I’ll have the time with a full-time job. I’ve had the chance to join random student groups and attend a meeting if the topic was interesting. I love that about college.”