Speaking of graduating….

Editor’s Note: A rough draft of my graduation speech given originally ran on Feb. 19. The version below is the final one that was read on that day. I hope to have a video up soon. But for now, here are the words.

Me reading the speech. My advisor, Micheline Marcom
 in the background. Photo by Paula Altschuler

I have labored over these words for the past two years. I thought about them during my first semester, anticipating the day that I’d stand in front of a crowd with a mixture of nerves and elation in my stomach. I’ve thought about them in the car during my second semester, on the way to work. I lingered over them in my third semester as I watched my creative writing students blossom into their own, and I thought about these words during my final semester, in between sleep and thesis, wondering what words to use and in what order to convey so many emotions. Who would I thank that I haven’t already? How many eyes would be staring at me wondering when I would stop speaking so that we could finish this ceremony to move on to our much anticipated meal?

But when I sat down to write these words, I couldn’t stop thinking of how many times I would have to say good bye. How many times I would have to smile through my sadness. How many times I would hold back tears, hiding them behind hugs and laughs.

You see, I am not one who adjusts to change quickly. Ironic when you think about how quickly I adjusted to being a grad student. I wanted to be here. I worked hard to be here. And now that I have been and am leaving, I’m finding it difficult to return to the person I once was.

And maybe that’s a good thing. Change is the only constant in this world – people come and go, businesses close, cities morph. Change is always the sure bet, place your money on that. I did. I placed my money, my time, and my energy on this change. I took a risk and I hit pay dirt.
I gained writing mentors in the faculty here, in particular Micheline and Amiee. They pushed me. Hard. Even when my life was fraying like a tattered rope, they pushed and they tugged and they got out of me what I was meant to write, what I needed to write. The most valuable lessons they taught me were to be kind to myself, to write toward my truth, to be brave. Always be brave.

My second reader Ryan Boudinot taught me to not underestimate the story I’m writing. I confess that during the most stressful parts of my job as a newspaper reporter, I read his second reader report and I remember who I truly am. It reminds me amid the chaos, there is calm and focus. That letter lives in a Google document in my email, a beacon to what some call tenacity but I call your average Cuban stubbornness. I wrote a thesis despite all the obstacles. That letter says, above it all, that there is hope and sometimes that’s all I need.

With change comes the luxurious feeling of hope. But now I want the world to stay still. Can’t we just stay still for a minute? Let’s take a beat, a breath, a blink. The person who started here is not the person who is leaving. So you see, not only has my life changed. I have changed.
What is to become of me now?

Like a good Goddard student, I turned to my books for an answer. Of all the books I’ve read, Clarice Lispector’s Hour of the Star answered my question best. Truth drips from her pen.

“So long as I have questions to which there are no answers, I shall go on writing.”

This is what is to become of me. I shall write for answers. I shall write for truth. I shall write until I have exhausted all my questions and then I will find more. I shall cling to the part of me that has most changed because that is the truest and realist part of me. That’s the part my dad saw in me and so I must honor it as I honor him.

When my dad died in 2002, with him went a part of me I thought I was never getting back. But now that it has returned I’m overwhelmed by it. I’m overwhelmed by this gift. But I am grateful.

To my G3s…I have sat where you have, scared. Knowing that in a year, it would be my turn to stand at this podium. This is my advice to you: love that fear. Embrace it. This is the part where it gets real. The romantic notion of graduate school is over. So write the answers to your questions. Write toward your truth. Time moves too quickly and change is around the corner. Prepare accordingly.

To my G1s and G2s…This is your moment. Don’t waste it. You are here for you. If your writing doesn’t scare you. If you don’t have a physical reaction to it. You’re not doing it right. Revise. Dig deeper. No one can write your stories but you. Be brave.

To my G4s…Remember sleep? You’ll forget what a full night’s sleep feels like until your last packet. I have no advice for this. All I can say is be good to yourself. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Write, baby. Write.

And so I’ll close with this. One day, a wise woman said to us to use our words. And so these are mine with a little help from my friend Clarice. I have loved being here. I have loved learning about me. I love who I’ve come. Change is here and it is beautiful. Now is the season for strawberries, yes.

Thank you.

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