(I had the privilege to speak for the SIT Graduate Institute Commencement yesterday, May 12, 2018. Below is the script)
(Video recording shall be uploaded soon)
This speech is dedicated to my family, friends, faculty, and everyone else who helped pave the way for my SIT family and I to make it to the finish line. Thank you!
Can everyone here say “YASSSS” with me?
1, 2, 3…
Welcome, Class of 2018, parents, families, faculties, and staff.
My name is Aurora Lucas, and it is with great honor to be speaking in front of you all today. It’s amazing to be speaking in front of so many incredible individuals this morning.
This is graduation for SIT Graduate Institute, where I believe my classmates and I can agree is one of the most special places on Earth, hands down.
My dear graduates, today, you will receive a degree. It is a very expensive, yet very important piece of paper. It has the ability to take you anywhere in this world, and where you go after this will be up to you.
It’s going to be a long journey from now, but what is important is this moment, and to recognize that today marks another milestone in your life.
Look at the people around you today, and realize we are some of the luckiest people in the world. To obtain this masters degree is a gift to us and still a dream to many, and with great gifts come with great responsibilities.
We all came to this school with one common vision: to be conscious professionals and individuals wherever we worked in the world. We wanted to be a positive ray of light instead of someone who causes harm to the communities we are interacting with.
I want to take this moment, for us to give a round of applause for the class of 2018. You overcame EVERYTHING coming up to this moment and you are officially becoming Masters in your respective fields. Please give a round of applause for the Class of 2018.
Now, I would like to take this second as well, for us to give a round of applause for the parents, friends, and families that are here to support the Class of 2018. Thank you for being here with us on this important day.
Now, I want us to recognize another group of very important people. For years, even before many of us got on this campus, they have shown commitment to this institution, shared their knowledge with us, and saw each one of us for who we truly are.
Thank you to all faculty, professors, and staff for believing in us and our dreams even when things may have gotten dark and strenuous for many of us. You challenged us to become better, because you saw what we were capable of.
I also want for all of us to stand up and to give our faculty, professors, and staff a standing ovation.
I will be honest with you, that I felt a lot of pressure speaking in front of soooo many people at such an important event. It reminded me during the first week of the TESOL program, and one of my colleagues, Ang Xiu Ja, told me: “I have never, in my life, met a native speaker that was nervous of speaking English in front of people.” The truth was, I was intimidated because I admired the people around me at SIT with all of the experiences they had brought in the classroom and on this campus.
If you had told nine year old Aurora that she would be partaking in her commencement speech in her graduate school in 2018, she would have giggled, or have given you a blank stare, because she wouldn’t have understood what you were saying.
You see, the labels I come with are: first generation, immigrant, minority, low income, and female. These are labels that I have carried with me my whole life, and I’ve learned that navigating the realities I live through may be different than the people around me.
When you cross entire oceans and become an immigrant in the USA, no one gives you a guide book 101 for the challenges you face in this country. We also did not have an orientation with powerpoints telling us what kind of cross cultural barriers we would run into. While I was growing up in the Philippines, I remember being given this painting like dream of what the United States of America would be like: the white picket fence, big house, people that are happy, signifying a bright future. It sure as hell looked appealing to us. We were not shown the other painting though, which is more true to the experience I’ve had so far: the painting where families are making ends meet, living in basements then later upgrading to small one bedroom apartments and hand me down clothes. It was only later on that we found out and lived through the narrative that pervaded this country: that immigrants are unwanted and should go back to their own countries, because people were afraid. Leaders come up with narratives infused with fear that immigrants take other people’s jobs, or that a certain group of immigrants posed a threat to the citizens of this nation. From the very beginning my parents told me not to get discouraged, and what we found was that there are people along the way who would help guide us towards success with their love, light, and wisdom.
While many parents will move mountains for their children, my parents moved entire countries and oceans so that our family could have food on the table, and so that their children could have better education.
My father a high school graduate, worked as a janitor in a factory, and my mother a domestic caregiver for many years. It was my parents’ wildest dreams that their children could have an education in the United States, and I decided that the way I would serve this world is to master the English Language and teach it to future immigrants and students in underserved communities. I couldn’t have chosen a better school than SIT Graduate Institute. This institution taught me how could teach English in a conscious manner, as a vessel for peace and not for destruction.
When I was younger and couldn’t express my words “correctly” in English, my intelligence as a human being was pretty much non existent to many of my peers throughout elementary school. The way my words rolled off my tongue was not American enough, and my classmates in fourth grade thought this was pretty funny.
The story I tell you is my own, and it is authentic, but it is not unique. I know that there are millions of immigrants out there who could say that they’ve had similar experiences. I know that there are people in the audience today, who are our friends, who can say that they’ve had similar experiences too.
Pursuing this degree as a first generation Filipino-American student was difficult, but anything worth having never comes easy. There was no one in my family to tell me what graduate school would be like, but SIT gave me and my peers a lot of support because they genuinely wanted us to succeed.
I honestly thought that graduate school meant one more year of being in classrooms, more papers, and more learning. It was more than that. Graduate school meant having a safe haven, away from the busyness and hustle of the life I had left behind in Chicago, and where I was making ends meet.
Graduate school here in the Brattleboro campus meant that I would meet incredible people who, by the end of the year, considered each other family. It also meant a lot of crying from the pressure of graduate school papers and assignments, and sometimes not even really knowing why. Graduate school meant a lot of meals in the IC, poetry reading in the basements, dance parties in El Café, and so much more.
Our SIT family pulled each other through all of the hardships, trials, and fun times, to make sure that we would all succeed and make it to the finish line. When things got dark and I could barely make it out of bed, there was a classmate, faculty member, or a friend who always held the light in the end of the tunnel.
We, as students of SIT Graduate Institute, gave up so much in our lives in order to attend this institution. Y’all moved states, countries, gave up jobs, left behind families and friends, in order to make today a reality.
What I had found was that we gained so much more than we left behind. By accepting this challenge we are now more equipped to make a difference in building a better world that we have always dreamed of.
Congratulations, Class of 2018, WE MADE IT!