Graduation Speech at LACC Commencement Ceremony

(Written speech is not a transcript)

This Changes Everything

It is my great honor, and even greater surprise to stand here and address you today, the faculty, students, and families at LACC. Three years ago, when most of my classmates were graduating from high school, I was transitioning from a different life. I’m what they call here a “returning student,” which means I’ve tried to do this before, a few times actually, but it didn’t work out. Out of high school I enrolled at Cal State Long Beach for Art, but I was not a good student. I hated disappointing my mother, but I lacked focus and had no idea what I wanted to do or to “be.” When I got a ‘C’ grade in my first Art class, I became frustrated and dropped out. 

My story, and my life, are too long for this address; but I will attribute my return to school in Spring of 2010, to an act of desperation, and my subsequent success to maturity, a lifetime of experiences. I am also blessed with an amazing support system, my family, including my four children who have all gone on to college, and have been coaching me through this. And I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge my second husband Tony, whose support has enabled me to focus fully on my studies and without whom I most certainly would not be standing here.

There is also a whole support system here at LACC wanting to help, if we seek it. The Foundation, who granted me scholarships every semester that I have applied; the OSS- and -Pi Shop, who got me through four semesters of math; my beloved teachers, who are always happy to answer questions; we have amazing teachers here, both on staff and part time. Our Social Sciences Department changed my life! Gayle Partlow of the Art department, who has been like my left leg on this journey, (I’ll miss her class most of all); my peer mentor from UCLA, Vara at the Transfer center, who was like my coach; even Harry’s food truck who on more than one occasion fed me on a promise of “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a veggie burger today.” (little joke for the old folks) It wasn’t until I was writing this speech that I realized how much I will miss this community.

It is what I learned here that has changed my life. Through the course of my study, Frederick Douglass has become one of my heroes. For those unfamiliar with him, Frederick Douglass was an Abolitionist, born a slave, who taught himself to read and write and escaped to freedom, but in his freedom he did not just go live a quiet life somewhere. Douglass spent most of his life writing and speaking out for an end to slavery, and pursuing civil rights for African Americans, often by befriending and changing the opinions of powerful (white) men, such as Abraham Lincoln.

Douglass first discovered the secret of slavery when he was a very young boy, listening to his master, “Mr Auld” chastise “Mrs. Auld” for teaching him to read. He told her besides being unlawful and unsafe, teaching him to read would only make him unfit to be a slave, unmanageable to his master, discontented and unhappy. Douglass writes that “from that moment (he) understood the direct pathway from slavery to freedom…” and that Mr. Auld “had little idea of the use to which (he) was capable of putting” the lesson he was giving to his wife.

After learning to read and write, Frederick Douglass found that Mr. Auld was right; it made his life of slavery even more intolerable, at times he felt that learning had been a curse rather than a blessing. Eventually he wrote himself a pass to the North and escaped to freedom.

Hero ShotThe importance of education, for it’s own sake, that is what my education has taught me. This changes everything, it is the path to freedom. What I didn’t understand when I was young is that my education would change the way I do and think about everything, if I let it. It’s not just about getting the degree so I can get a good job; It’s about the person it will make me. I am not the same person I was in Spring of 2010. So, I am off to UCLA in the Fall, and I feel like I’m going to Disneyland or something. I still don’t know what I want to “Be.” But I am more excited than ever to find out who I will become.

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