Skip To Content
Spelman Students

Our Stories

Class of 2012 Valedictorian Re-Discovers Her Purpose and Passion

May 2016

Deaweh_Benson-ValedictorianWith roots in Liberia and the first in her family to be born in America, Deaweh Benson was Spelman College's class of 2012 valedictorian. A psychology major, English minor, with a 3.99 GPA, Benson left an indelible mark on campus as a Phi Beta Kappa inductee with a dedication to both academics and campus leadership. Today, her professional and global experiences have taught her invaluable lessons that her Spelman sisters can use to help them change the world.

While on campus, the Washington, D.C. native was residential adviser, Writing Center tutor, executive editor of the Spelman Spotlight, and public service chair of the Eta Kappa Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. She also interned with Coca-Cola Refreshments, BET and Exxon Mobil Community Summer Jobs Program; was named a national winner in the Executive Leadership Council's "Wealth of Diversity" essay contest; and participated in The Ph.D. Project, a program designed to encourage minorities to pursue business doctoral studies. She was also a Vicki R. Palmer Scholarship recipient and sixth-place winner in the Executive Leadership Council National Essay Competition.

Benson's Ivy Oration Speech at Class Day 2012 Still Resonates Today

Benson said her support system at Spelman played an integral part in her academic success. "My support system was my closest Spelman sisters and my professors. I had a lot of faculty members in the English department and the LEADS Center who were my mentors." She added, "I also came to understand the importance of determination and the importance of setting goals and striving for those goals."

Four years after leaving the gates of Spelman, Benson has an even clearer vision of her purpose and her passion. She serves as site coordinator for Reading Partners, an educational management company. There she manages the daily operations of a literacy center by directing tutorial services provided to 57 students, coaches over 60 community volunteers on tutoring best practices and curriculum developments, and facilitates the organization's inaugural culture and inclusion task force. She is also the founder of Booked Kids, a summer reading program for parents and children in Washington, D.C.

In Her Own Words: What I Learned From 12 Rejection Letters

by Deaweh Benson on Destination Booked


My first rejection letter came from the University of Michigan Business School. I kept refreshing my email to see if I’d get a follow-up response explaining some technical issue. No such response came. It hurt, but I figured I just had to get in to at least one school. The University of Pennsylvania rejection came next, followed by the Stanford rejection, and so forth. Finally, the twelfth rejection crept its ugly head into my inbox. By then, I did what every overachiever who had never been rejected would do–I felt sorry for myself.

I wish I could say that I underwent some dynamic spiritual enlightenment. I even wish I could say that I came across some wise advice in a book. In truth, the only reason why I dragged myself out of my wallowing stupor was because I thoroughly hated my job. The twelfth rejection letter coupled with a meeting reviewing internal company emails forced me to learn my first lesson:


I felt stuck. I had a well-paying job–that I hated. My socially acceptable graduate school escape route hadn’t panned out the way I had hoped. Nothing but desperation forced me to try something I had always wanted. I decided to teach abroad.

I now realize that my choice illustrates that many obstacles are a product of perception. When we become so consumed with our immediate problems—we fail to see the detours leading to our desired destination.


Like a completely reasonable twenty-something, I packed up all my things and left to teach in China. I can’t say that the entire time was picture perfect. Living as a Black woman in China surely had its difficulties. Yet, the most rewarding part was the ability to disconnect.

I could not count on my nonexistent Mandarin skills to communicate with others. In fact, most of my days were spent in silence. I could not rely on the empty praises of friends and family to stifle my insecurities. I could not morph into the expectations that society held for my race, gender, and social class. I had to face myself.

Submit Your Story

We want to hear from you. Briefly tell us about your Spelman achievements. If more information is needed, we will contact you.

Please Note: We appreciate your contribution, but submission of your information does not guarantee you will be featured in Our Stories.
Enter your full name.
For example, C'2020
Limit 500 characters. HTML tags are not allowed. Tell us a little about yourself and why you would like to be profiled in Our Stories.
* Photo
Please provide a large, quality photo.
Be sure the video is marked as Public.
How Did You Hear About Our Stories? (check all that apply)

* Accept Terms