Jacquelyn Aguilera ’19 gives the senior class speech at Pitzer College’s 55th annual Commencement held on May 18, 2019.
Introduction by President Melvin L. Oliver: This year’s senior class speaker is Jacquelyn Aguilera. Jacquelyn is from Thousand Oaks, California, and is graduating with a degree in mathematical economics and design manufacturing and management engineering. While at Pitzer, Jacqueline served as the president of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science and was a member of the First Generation Student Club and the Latinx Student Union. After graduation, Jacquelyn will embark on a Venture for American fellowship. Please join me in welcoming Jacquelyn Aguilera to the stage.
Jacquelyn Aguilera: I am here today at this podium for the same reason as many of you; to ensure a photo with Laverne Cox. While I am here, I would also like to recognize the Tongva for the land we stand on today. I would also like to thank the Paiutes from the Owens Valley for these last four years of water.
Congratulations, Class of 2019; we did it! I was told that college would teach me the lifelong skill of learning and perhaps it did, but in fact, Pitzer taught me something more important. Pitzer taught me to listen. Four years later, the reasons why we all came to Pitzer are starting to blur. I came to Pitzer for two reasons: one, to be the first in my family to graduate from college. Can I have all of my first-generation friends please stand up? Thank you. We are the first but not the last.
The second was to see how my college education could be used to create community change. I’ll never forget the look on my advisor’s face when I told him that med school was my backup plan. When I reached Pitzer, I decided to take a risk. You see, when I applied to college. Pitzer was a mere pitstop on my way to medical school. I thought that a doctor was what my community needed and what my family needed. I realized four years later that there’s no right way to create change. When deciding on my major, I decided to look back on the things that made me happy and the things that made me proud. I remembered summer nights running an ice cream shop in the back of my grandma’s house in Mexico, a shop that my mom started at the age of 17 despite not having had the opportunity to finish middle school. The second memory that brought me joy was building a chicken coop in my backyard, something oddly familiar here at Pitzer. At that time, I had only finished middle school woodshop but my dad’s decades of expertise and construction made it possible to make a chicken coop large enough not only to fit our five chickens but also to let our 20 parakeets roam free. Instead of molding myself to who I thought I was supposed to be, four years later I can now only tell you who I am and who I am proud to be. I am the catalyst. I am a problem solver and most importantly, I am the child of immigrants who crossed the border so I could cross the stage with you today.
Today I’m receiving my degrees in economics and engineering. I now hope to use both of these degrees to address the same issues I once did as a doctor as I now hope to do as an entrepreneur. I hope to start my own company and build medical technology to address health inequities. The liberties of a liberal arts college allowed me to create my own path. However, choosing a degree was only half my goal at Pitzer. My second goal was to figure out how to apply my career to create change. I chose Pitzer because I wanted to study along classmates who dream like Martin, strike like Caesar and move walls like Marcia. I now know that justice and social justice are not something you learn or study but rather something you listen.
Now, I have a request for you all: Can everyone who likes to be wrong raise their hand? Okay, we have a few brave people. (I don’t know if it’s true but we’ll see.) Like many of you, I also don’t like to be wrong, especially when it’s on a test. Four years into Pitzer, I thought I had my core values all figured out. That was until this January when I had a conversation that deepened my understanding and changed my view of the path towards equity. However, that’s not how I always saw that conversation. it was difficult. At first, I felt hurt and attacked. It was easier to distance myself and dismiss the conversation as an attack on my character. Some of you may have felt this during your time at Pitzer. The conversation was humble lesson that we have to be willing to reevaluate. No amount of theory, textbooks, or prior organizing experience can prepare us when it’s time to reevaluate our own views and be okay to be wrong.
Another lesson I learned is that sometimes when we’re
learning about equity, the urgency or the anger with which people speak is also
part of the lesson. Before you can strike, stand up and stand by those most
affected. You have to be willing to sit down and listen. We have to be willing
to challenge ourselves as openly as we challenge others. As Pitzer graduates,
we will listen. We will listen to our core value of environmental
sustainability when we not only affirm but also act on the climate crisis. We
will listen to the children on our borders who cry to be seen as children
before they are “othered” as refugees. And we will listen to survivors of all
genders and sexualities when they say “me too.” In a time of unprecedented
polarization Pitzer ’19, we do not need more walls. We need more bridges and we
need you to be willing to be those bridges. Next time you are faced with an
opposing view, ask yourself, am I hearing or am I listening? In the words of
Delilah Ma, when you talk you’re only repeating what you know. But if you
listen, you may learn something new.
Congratulations, Class of 2019!