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Alverno Heights Academy Commencement Speech 2016

Revised for 2017 Graduates, Families, Faculty, and Administrators

Good evening to the class of 2017, faculty, administrators, and families. We are here to celebrate the graduates and it is clear this monumental event exists on account of Alverno’s phenomenal education, the supportive families and the inspired, hard work of the graduates! With much gratitude give yourselves a hand. It’s good to congratulate yourselves. You’ve worked hard. Now, how many of you can remember a teacher that made a difference in your life? On the count of three, I want you to say their name out loud and and say thank you. 1, 2, 3….

It feels good to start the evening with gratitude, right?

Begin each day with gratitude.

When I was little I wanted to be like my father and the reason was the way my mother talked about him and said, "Your father is so smart, he's an aerospace engineer." I wanted to be smart like him, I wanted have a brief case full of important papers and review them at the kitchen table while, I drank black coffee in the early morning hours. When I was 3 and 4 I told everyone one I wanted to be a custodial engineer because I thought it was the same as an aerospace engineer. My parents got a great kick out of it. But by the time I was 5, I wanted to be a doctor, I wanted to help people. I was drawn to the level of need in third world countries, and I wanted to reduce needless suffering. It was deep in my gut, nagging on my brain. The phrase my father told me over and over was, “do what you love and the rest will follow, if you do what you love and go to a job you love each day you will have joy.”

Graduates, do what you love and the rest will follow.

At Alverno, I learned that God could be a she, I learned evolution, liturgical dance, that you could try anything and everything, how to be a strong woman, how to persevere, to accept and love all cultures, and to find joy and gratitude in life. Each day campus felt like a sanctuary, nestled at the foot of the Angeles Crest forest, where the plush green mountains touched the blue skies. I was able to experiment in many exhilarating courses, sports, arts, and found the campus to be full of life with inspiring mentors that guided me to do my best on every level. In a freshman English class, Ms. Fanara saw something in me, I hold onto almost daily. She read a short story I wrote out loud to the class as an example of writing that activated the senses. I always enjoyed writing but what I did not know at the time is I was pretty decent at it. At times when I struggle to write something, I remember that moment of surprise and gratitude when Ms. Fanara saw something in me I did not know existed. It decreases the fear inside me and helps me find faith and squash the voice inside that says, you can’t do this and instead embrace the voice that says, you can do anything.

Graduates hold onto those moments when someone saw something inside you that you did not know existed.

22 years ago, I sat here at graduation like you and, I knew, I had a loving family, a remarkable education from Alverno, I would be a scientist, and I would do what I loved. But what I did not know was, that summer my mother would be diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. That I would arrive at the Caltech PhD program with a 3 year son. That I would have to fail time and time again as a scientist to create discovery, learn humility and never give up. What I did not know is my son would sit along side my mother, father, husband, sister, and brothers during my PhD defense, and he would ask a question when I defended. That my son, would teach me to always ask questions. What I did not know that it would take more than my life time to develop a cure for Parkinson’s, I would shift from my faith in science to faith in God, and remain connected to my mother. That her story, my story, and our story would be the driving force for a book I am writing. That her motherly teachings would guide me to be the best mother for my son. What I also did not know, was that I would give up my dream job to spend the last months with my mother. That I would learn to reinvent myself time and time and time again as a scientist, mother, daughter, writer, researcher, human. But what I really did not know there were a series of doors of opportunity. And my path was not what I expected. But, I held on to my dreams and found the best doors to open and held on to the opportunity for my dear life.

Treat each day and each moment with the care that something truly amazing is happening. Even the expected things that do not go your way become opportunities to expand your pallet of the world. We know this world is not black and white, nor is it various grays. But rather it is the spectrum of light, a rainbow, to make your dreams come true.

Graduates, write that list of your fears and release them to the universe. Choose faith. Write the deep dreams that live in your gut, your truths, and the ideas that keep you up at night. Take your dreams seriously and the rest of the world will listen and take you seriously. Share your dreams. Hold on to those moments when someone saw something inside of you that you did not know what existed. Fail every day and write that on your heart that you will get up and try again. Without failure there is no growth. The difference for your success is that you get back up and keep trying. Embrace humility and remain determined.

For you women, whose desire to have children and a big family like my mother, build it, make it beautiful, and go for it. I would not be who I am today without my mother. We need loving mothers.

Don’t compete with others. Don’t judge others. Instead, set a Personal Best for yourself every day. Whether it is writing a paper, running a marathon, caring for a loved one, driving calmly in traffic, make it your personal best! Admire others and look to them for inspiration. Let them know they inspire you, they may share their secrets of success with you and mentor you.

Be kind.

Remember, no one had it easier than you. Believe this. Everyone that has achieved small and great things had to work hard, develop perseverance, were in the right place at the right time, and said, ”yes.” Remember to say YES!

Dream what you want and live it. Own your dreams. Trust that people will catch you when you share them. There will always be naysayers but that is where you have to be tenacious, strong, and courageous. Nothing feels better than doing something someone told you you could not do. Be an iconoclast! Yes, that is a GRE word so listen up! You need to trust that voice that speaks your truth no matter what. You need to believe in your vision and know that you make a difference.

You and your voice matter.

So if that is going out there and saving the polar bears, slowing the melt of the glaciers, studying the stars, curing cancer, becoming a teacher, doctor, a veterinarian, or a NICU nurse, writing an inspiring novel, creating beautiful films, reducing poverty, creating safer investment practices, arguing a case in front of the Supreme Court, or opening a coffee shop in Cancun. GO for it! The time is NOW!

You will not know the answers all the time and that is where you reach to your faith, friends, and family. Many paths will appear for you. Choose the best one. If you don’t like it, you can change it anytime. It is okay if you don’t know what you want to do, always explore and do what you love- sing, dance, travel, spend time with the people you love. Ask questions. Daily. Try everything that interests you. Be open when you find your spark and follow it.

Graduates, we need you. The world needs you. We need your visions to bring humanity to the best and highest level. We have many burdens and problems and we need your beautiful minds, passion, and your courage. We need your innovation! Remember that small voice inside of you that thinks you can do it, because you can, I believe in you. We believe in you. Do what you love, that you are truly passionate about and have faith the rest will follow. Now is your time. Today. Tomorrow. This year. Next year. Ahead is all yours. Live your dreams.

And from the environmentalist David Brower-

“There is more inside you than you dare to think.”


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