Rising to the Challenge of Dr. King

In celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on what would have been his 95th birthday, Middlesex welcomed back four alumni on January 15 to share their school and career experiences during a special assembly that morning.

As the keynote speaker, former Middlesex Trustee Wanji Walcott ’87 related her educational and professional journey, remembering that she “always felt a little different” as the only Black girl in her class from prekindergarten until college. Yet, in addition to the “world-class education and opportunities to explore,” Wanji affirmed, “The best thing about Middlesex is the people,” adding that she still gets together with her close-knit group of Middlesex friends every summer.

After earning her undergraduate degree at Howard University – followed by a J.D. at its law school – Wanji embarked on an impressive legal career that has included working for Lockheed Martin, American Express, PayPal, and Discover Financial Services. Today, she is the chief legal and business affairs officer at Pinterest, an image-based social media platform that she is proud to say is “a positive, inclusive corner of the Internet.” Because there are still few Black women serving as an executive or general counsel at major companies, Wanji also purposefully promotes diversity and equity, serves as a mentor, and takes on pro bono work, helping people who cannot afford legal assistance. Having been sometimes told that certain goals were beyond her reach, she advised students, “Don’t let someone tell you that you can’t do something. Dream big and just do it.”

Turning to Dr. King’s hopes for the nation, Wanji observed, “It might seem that the dream has been realized, but I don’t think it has.” Encouraging the Middlesex community to “continue to improve and do better,” she concluded with a call to action. “You should feel comfortable being here. Some may struggle and feel they don’t belong. What are you going to do about this?”

Following a short break, student leaders Nailah Hamilton ’24 and Kwame Addison ’25 moderated a panel discussion featuring Atiya Walcott ’12, Ariana Odom ’17, and Dereck Marmolejos ’18. Each reflected on their years as Black students at Middlesex, appreciating the care of faculty advisors and mentors and the chance to try new things, while also recognizing that there is still room for improvement in the student experience. Reminding everyone that “it doesn’t cost to be kind,” Dereck noted, “There’s a lot more that unifies us than divides us.”