On September 5, 2019, Boston College continued the annual tradition of Convocation with a ceremony dedicated to the Class of 2023, featuring Chris Wilson as keynote speaker of the night. A symbolic and memorable evening, Convocation is an embrace of the newest installment to the student body.
Typically, the event is centered around an address from a guest speaker with a perspective meant to shape the thoughts and actions of both students and faculty alike. Wilson, an author, entrepreneur, and artist, is a Maryland native with a life story to spark inspiration among all those willing to listen. BC was all ears.
The title of Wilson’s novel, The Master Plan, refers to a set of personal goals that he designed while serving what was originally supposed to be a lifetime sentence in jail. Entering the criminal justice system at eighteen years old, Wilson chose to separate his circumstances from his mindset. Instead, he focused on what he hoped could happen in the future, should he be released early. His dream finally came to fruition when his judge decided to release him sixteen years later.
Wilson sat down with The Gavel just hours before his speech, revealing: “I’ve never been to a ceremony of this scale. I think it would be the largest audience I’ve ever spoken to.” When asked about his impression of Convocation, he praised the fact that it brings so many students together, offering: “I’m looking forward to seeing it...it’s almost like we’re lining up for battle or something, marching into the future!”
Having navigated such emotionally turbulent events, we wanted to know how the people around Wilson helped during his most difficult moments. Wilson attributes much of the support he received to “verbal encouragement.”
Today, he tells us, “As a matter of policy, I surround myself with positive people…I tend to listen to people who have my best interests in mind.” Even if it means they have to shout at him to get their point across.
Wilson’s Master Plan is varied and ambitious. Some of the items he worked to achieve while in jail demonstrate this, including earning high school and college degrees and improving language skills in Spanish, Italian, and Mandarin. Other subject areas, such as artwork, were explored more deeply following his release.
He brightens at the mention of his paintings. “What inspires me most is [that] I feel like I can use art to be a voice for people and issues. Mostly for people who don’t have a voice...that has been very cathartic for me, and also profitable.” He smiles, “I love to do it. I feel like I’ve found my calling.”
After observing the peace that Wilson has found through these ventures of self-expression, it is natural to wonder, how can BC students create their own Master Plan? When asked, Wilson is thoughtful, then replies, “I would say everyone has this switch inside of them. I would encourage students to think about what their endgame is…how do they want to be remembered?”
In terms of getting things off the ground, Wilson takes an old-fashioned approach: “Write it all down, and the steps that [it will] take...who do you want to be? Work backwards.”
To listen to Wilson is to absorb his energy and enthusiasm toward life. There is no better figure to represent the start of college. Considering one takeaway which he hopes the Class of 2023 receives, Wilson settles on, “I would hope to raise the level of consciousness of the students and faculty here. Using my story as an example, childrens’ lives are redeemable and I’m living proof of that.”
Always one to focus on growth, Wilson looks forward to the personal impact that can be gleaned from his night at BC. “For myself, I’m hoping my takeaway is that people do care. I think most of the population in the audience will be people who don’t look like me, but I still think most of the audience will care about what I have to say.”
Wilson plans to touch on issues such as criminal justice reform and living with PTSD during his speech. “[These issues are] American,” said Wilson.
To keep up with his latest activities and other updates, follow Wilson on Instagram at @chriswilsonbaltimore and—if you haven’t already—look into his incredible memoir, The Master Plan.