Good afternoon President Spar, trustees, Barnard faculty, families, friends, and most importantly good afternoon to the wonderful Barnard Class of 2014! I am Stephanie Fernandez, Senior Class President and it is an honor to speak to you all today. I want to give a special thank you to everyone who has supported our journeys over the last four years, loved ones in the audience, and Barnard faculty.
I remember the first day of classes at Barnard. First year English, Legacies of the Mediterranean, was my first class. I sat in the room and listened to everyone’s comments and thoughts with admiration and awe. I left class feeling insecure and unintelligent as I compared myself to the other students. Throughout my first year, speaking up in class was extremely frightening. The few times that I raised my hand, I shivered uncontrollably, filled my statements with qualifiers, feared having a Spanish accent, worried about mispronouncing words, and most importantly was concerned with not sounding ‘smart enough’.
The competitive environments that we have been in and will continue to be in post graduation often do not encourage us to radically care and love others. Radical love and care has a large impact and can come in small ways, including the simple acts of listening and being present.
The realization that we are greater than our individual selves, and that our successes are part of a larger force is core to this practice. I have yet to master this practice as there are times when it feels easy to share love and care for others, but admittedly, there are times when it becomes extremely difficult to do so. I feel fortunate that here at Barnard and at home I have had examples of radical love and care to draw upon.
Growing up, I received how my parents exemplified love and care amidst many difficulties. Though my father’s salary was barely enough to put food on the table, his work was carried out with integrity and dedication. My parents navigated their way through a country and language foreign to them in order to ensure that my brother and I receive an education. My parents, like so many other parents here today, may not understand fully what it is that I do on campus, but they never ceased to express their concerns about my sleeping and eating habits.
I once picked up a pin that read “Barnard: Changing the world, One Woman at a Time”. I believe that one can change the world by loving it, and perhaps more importantly, by loving the people within it. Changing the world through love can come in the form of encouraging and helping one another, and acknowledging that as women and allies we are not competitors but stand in solidarity as a force. Our world has been scarred with historical wounds that today manifest themselves in the form of sexism, racism, classism, and homophobia amongst other forms of oppression. One of our generation’s challenges is to provide love and care to this world that has been so deeply hurt.
We can draw upon examples from our last four years at Barnard, to respond to this challenge. We have already demonstrated the significance of loving and caring for each other through our activist groups pushing for more inclusive spaces, heritage months calendars that helped us understand our different cultures, community service programs offering tutoring to students in Harlem, or our classroom debates where we sought solutions to some of today’s most pressing issues.
Most importantly, we have demonstrated the significance of loving and caring in our small acts of kindness - sending encouraging notes to friends, delivering snacks to the library amidst thesis writing, or giving that much needed hug on our roughest days. I will never forget my first year roommate’s listening ear as we struggled to adjust to college life. These acts are powerful because though there are larger systemic issues that we need to fight to against, changing the world with love begins in our daily practices.
Maya Angelou said “at the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, [but] they will remember how you made them feel.” Though I have felt insecure and have struggled with belonging, Barnard has made me feel and realize that my voice and concerns are valuable.
Class of 2014 – through Barnard, our lives and our stories are linked to one another. As we continue to mature and get ready to go out into the world– let us bring what we have shared in the last four years into every day of our lives. Let us remember how to overcome insecurity and fear, to believe in our own voice and strength. Let us remember to listen and support each other. Let us remember to think critically and not settle for easy answers. Let us remember that we don’t know everything and that it’s okay to ask questions. Let us remember to share love with those who are struggling for survival. Let us remember to hold love as a grounding principle in all that we set forth to do.
Class of 2014 – let us remember how we feel on this day – triumphant, loved, celebrated, and a strong sense of community. Barnard brought us together, and though our paths now diverge, we remain ever connected. Congratulations to my classmates, and a big thank you to our families and friends.