Crystal Vega, Urban Studies and Critical Diversity Studies ’18, was awarded this year’s Leo T. McCarthy Award. Below is her commencement speech.
Dear Class of 2018, I love you. You, the first generation students who paved the road for so many to come. You, the nonbinary and trans students who are constantly pushing the university to be a more gender inclusive space. You, the Black and Brown students who will not rest until this university makes everyone feel at home. You, the Pacific Islander and indigenous students who reflect the beauty, bravery, and courage of your communities. I am honored and humbled to be speaking in front of so many student leaders and activists. And lastly, I love me, the queer Chicanx with two jobs, two majors, one minor, and three years of college under their belt. I love you: I don’t use these three words lightly. And I’ve definitely never said it to a few hundred people but I believe it serves as a crucial last lesson.
Some of you in the room may be uncomfortable right now. Having a physical reaction to the word love. It’s okay, I was the same way. There was a point in my life where I stopped saying I love you to my friends and family. I started to feel weighed down by stories of trauma and my own experiences with misgendering, microaggressions, and discrimination. So I stopped. It wasn’t until I started a romantic relationship with my current partner of three years that I finally started using the words again. He helped me to see love as personal and interpersonal healing. Although I didn’t learn about love at USF, I did start to practice revolutionary love while in a classroom. I saw Valarie Kaur’s Ted Talk on revolutionary love and watched as she reclaimed love as “…sweet labor. Fierce. Bloody. Imperfect. Life-giving. A choice we make over and over again” and our greatest tool for social justice.
Throughout our years at USF, we have heard the phrase change the world from here. But what this phrase does not suggest is the burnout that happens after we resolve to do this. This is why we need to center ourselves in gratitude and love: a love of ourselves, for others, and for our opponents. Love not only allows me to envision a world of equity and inclusivity but can also empower me to run for local office and make that world a reality. Love can drive your passions whether they be in the public sector, reinvesting in low-income communities and improving our public transit systems, or in the private sector, reimagining how people connect to one another or innovating medicine as we know it. When someone says you can’t, when you tell yourself you won’t, center yourself in love. Wonder what you are capable of, value the humanity of others, and acknowledge those who see you as different because love wins. Congratulations Class of 2018!