2019 Biology Graduation Speech
Like many of you, I am not a California native. As a daughter of Mormon Missionaries, my mother was born and raised in Pacheco, a small town in Northern Mexico. When she was a young woman, she immigrated to the United States to pursue her education. She ultimately settled in Tennessee and raised her family, including me, there. Like my mother, I “immigrated” from Tennessee to California 22 yrs ago. California is now my home, but Tennessee is still my homeland. One thing that I deeply miss about Tennessee is the fireflies. If you have never seen a firefly, let me tell you about them. They are small beetles that use biochemical reactions to create flashes of light in their abdomens. And, as their name implies, they can fly. In the summer, after dusk, the fireflies emerge from the shadows to light up the night.
As such, fireflies provide a powerful metaphor for the existence of hope in the dark. Rebecca Solnit, SFSU alum and author of a book, which is aptly titled “Hope in the Dark”, writes: “The grounds for hope are in the shadows, in the people who are inventing the world while no one looks, who themselves don’t know yet whether they will have any effect, in the people you have not yet heard of who will be the next Cesar Chavez, the next Noam Chomsky, the next Cindy Sheehan, or become something you cannot yet imagine.”
You are all fireflies, emerging from the shadows to light up these dark times.
Those of you who know me well know that I love stories. And lucky for me, you all have some amazing stories that it is my privilege to tell…
To me, pursuing your education in an increasingly anti-intellectual world is an act of insurrection. It is an act of hope and lights the way.
- One of you was told that you were never going to make it in science; despite this discouragement, you persevered and will be starting your PhD program at UCSF next year.
- Many of you learned Biology in a language that was not your first language.
- One of you took 9 years to graduate from City College before finally making it to SFSU.
- Many of you saw a scientific need in your community, and so you worked to address it in your research.
To me, persisting in the face of unimaginable challenges is an act of insurrection. It is an act of hope and lights the way.
- One of you cared for your mother the entire time that you were a student at SFSU.
- One of you dealt with multiple hospitalizations and countless doctor visits for your oldest child while juggling two different jobs.
- Many of you overcame the death of a loved one while you were a student at SF State.
- One of you is a cancer survivor while others are you are fighting cancer right now.
- One of you came back to school as a mother of teenagers.
To me, enduring even when you have felt fearful, alienated and isolated is an act of insurrection. It is an act of hope and lights the way.
- One of you, a refugee in our city, was granted asylum.
- Many of you have persevered in the face of hunger and homelessness.
- A number of you are undocumented and live with the constant fear of being deported.
- Many of you had to work one or more jobs to help defray the costs of your college education.
If you recognized yourself in one of those stories, please know that you light up the dark. If you feel comfortable doing so, please stand as you are able. Thank you. You may be seated.
Students, loved ones, faculty and staff, if you are or were the first in your family to attend college, please stand up as you are able. You light up the dark. You may be seated.
If you ever felt like giving up, but persisted, please stand up. You light up the dark. You may be seated.
If you are pursuing a career in science with the hope that it will benefit the health of the planet and its inhabitants, please stand up. You light up the dark. And in so doing, you share your light with others. You may be seated.
If you are pursuing a career in education so that we may live in science-literate society, please stand up. You light up the dark. And in so doing, you share your light with others. You may be seated.
If you are a role model for young people in your communities, guiding them on a path to college and higher education and showing them how to aim high and go for your dreams, please stand up. You light up the dark. And in so doing, you share your light with others. You may be seated.
If you have volunteered your time to organizations such as the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science, Black Excellence in STEM, Oakland Bound, Rotary Club, and GlobeMed, to make the world a better place please stand up. You light up the dark. And in so doing, you share your light with others. You may be seated.
In the part of Tennessee that I am from, there is a rare species of firefly that is known to synchronize their flashes. By so doing, they illuminate the entire night sky. And just like you, the graduates of 2019, they shine brighter together. If you are a member of the graduating class of 2019, please stand up. You light up the dark. And like the fireflies from my backyard, I know that you will light up the world in ways that you cannot yet imagine.
Class of 2019, as a sign that you have successfully graduated from San Francisco State University, I now invite you to move your tassel from the right side of your mortar board to the left! Congratulations, graduates! Go out there and shine!