If there is one word to describe how Michelle Bailhe ’15 feels after four years at Brown, it’s “awake.”
“That’s probably an odd way to say it, but that’s the best word I can think of,” Bailhe said. “Being more awake personally to my strengths and things I’m trying to work on, but also what inspires me to get up and work every day on an issue.”
Bailhe, a human biology concentrator from Los Angeles, has completed two years of research in Rhode Island prisons, led a marriage equality march, and coordinated imPulse Dance Company and the Body and Sole dance coalition. She served as a peer mentor, a health careers adviser and, for three years, a teaching assistant.
In the fall, she will start as a consultant for McKinsey and Company, the first step on the path to a planned career in public service.
For Bailhe, a Brown education is not about racking up accomplishments but rather about learning how to question — the theme she chose to focus on in her speech, entitled “I Don’t Know.”
“A lot of students joke with themselves about, you know, phe, or social constructionism,” she said. “There’s a funny cultural component to that, but I think those things are so powerful because there are so many people who don’t know how to question their world.”
Bailhe has also learned to question herself, including why she participates in activism or how to best support causes she believes in.
“Questioning those things has been, I think, Brown’s greatest adventure … but it’s also a responsibility that Brown places on all of its students,” she said.
One of Bailhe’s most formative experiences has been researching the Rhode Island prison system. In the spring of her sophomore year, she began working with a professor on a study of incarcerated women’s reproductive health and volunteering in the prison clinic where the professor works.
The experience laid the groundwork for her senior thesis research and transformed her goals for the future. “It was really the turning point for me to not be pre-med anymore,” Bailhe said. “Working there, I saw myself wanting to fix the problems that were not doctors’ problems.”
Activism has been another central part of Bailhe’s Brown experience. Protests are “kind of a stereotype, but I don’t think so in a bad way,” she said. “I think it’s beautiful that we’re not apathetic.”
In crafting a Commencement speech, Bailhe felt it was important to discuss campus connectedness.
“I really wrote this for the class of 2015, and I want them to feel powerful,” she said. “There are a lot of loose ends to the Brown experience and controversies that have happened over the course of our time here and hard issues that we’ve had to reflect on.”
But for Bailhe, issues that can sometimes divide also have ways of unifying people. “Those moments have built more community,” Bailhe said. “I want people to recognize how much they’ve grown and how much they have to offer, given those experiences, even if they’re not neat and tidy and they didn’t win every argument.”