Following is a transcript of a speech delivered by Alejandrina Guzman, 2017-18 Student Government President, during the 135th spring commencement at UT Austin, May 19, 2018.
Thank you President Fenves for the introduction! Wow, this is amazing. Thank you all for the amazing introduction! I could never have imagined myself here, right here in this spot, proudly wearing my Latinx Grad stole, a stole symbolizing my identity as a Latina woman. When I think back to the past 10 years, it dawns on me that none of the speakers were wearing a Latinx Grad stole, or even a Black Grad stole. I start to ask myself, why?! Why does it take so long for this to happen? Why didn’t I ever see myself speaking at, let alone attending, The University of Texas at Austin?
For many of us, attending college is a far-away dream,— many times, even impossible. As a proud daughter of immigrants and a first-generation college student, I know that I am beyond lucky to have been a student on the Forty Acres. But these past five years at UT didn’t happen all on my own.
My parents had to make immense sacrifices. My dad has worked tirelessly. From working at Domino’s Pizza, driving out to work at 3 a.m. to start his shift at 5 a.m., to working outside in the sun in 100-degree weather, he has never failed to provide for our family. My mom has been sacrificing since Day One. The doctors told my parents I wouldn’t be able to walk. And my mom took that as a challenge. When I was 3, she would practice with me every day to help overcome my fear of falling. And although I use my wheelchair to get across the 400-acre campus, I’m able to walk because of my mom. Gracias mami y papi por tu amor.
When I came to UT, I was nervous that I wouldn’t fit in, that I wouldn’t find my place on campus. But college has been an amazing experience because of the incredible people I’ve been blessed to be surrounded with. From my professors, mentors and friends, I wouldn’t have been able to do it without all of you.
For example, my sophomore year, my front left wheel of my wheelchair broke off just as a storm was rolling in. My friends immediately came to help when my chair suddenly collapsed. We had to find a way to transport the 250-pound wheelchair in the middle of north campus to west campus and beat the severe thunderstorm that was about to hit. But we figured it out, and we found a way! And for the next 12 days, I was without my electric wheelchair, but I was still able to feel independent, all because my friends cared to help me.
On this day of celebration, I think it’s important that we take a moment to practice gratitude for all of the people that have helped us get here. The reality is that I am up here now because of those who paved the way for me, those who sacrificed for me, and those who continuously empowered me to persist. This was all an impossible dream. And here we are. All gathered together. Your presence matters. In everything you do, you have an entire group of people supporting you.
As I’ve shared my story, I know it’s only one of many across campus. Continue moving forward, own your story on how you got here, and always be bold in your passions.
As we move on to the next chapter of our lives, as we become teachers, playwrights, accountants, doctors and engineers, let’s realize that we have the power to elevate those around us. Let us start planting our seeds of knowledge in the world. As the Mexican proverb goes: They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.
Congratulations, Class of 2018. I am so proud of us. Let’s celebrate tonight (see you on Sixth), and Hook ’Em Horns!