Addressing Georgetown’s class of 2019

Addressing Georgetown’s class of 2019

In May I had the honor of speaking at Georgetown University’s 2019 senior convocation to an audience of over 3,000+ people, including 1,700 fellow graduating seniors, faculty members, and guests. Read my remarks below!

Thank you Provost Groves.

For most of my life, I thought the doors of higher education were closed to me. I never went to high school. I didn’t even really go to middle school…

As a young girl, I suffered from crippling anxiety. Classrooms terrified me. Teachers and other students intimidated me. My mother saw what was happening to me, and she did the only thing she knew to do: put me into homeschool. But still, I refused.

The only place I found peace was on the internet. I LOVED to be left alone in my room and learn on my own. I was learning how to make websites, do professional photography, and reading about art history, philosophy, and theology.

I had about a fifth-grade formal education when I stopped homeschooling. As I got older, I realized what I had actually done was drop out of school. In 2013, at the age of 20, I finally sought a therapist for my anxiety and she helped me gain the confidence to take my GED and go to community college.

While I was in community college, I came out as bisexual and became really interested in the fight for LGBTQ equality. So I did what I knew to do — I went online, and I learned how to start my own nonprofit for LGBTQ equality, and I wrote and submitted op-eds to my local newspapers. I was recognized for my activism and invited to serve on the board of the ACLU of Alabama.

I was finally back out in the world and the doors of higher education were cracking open for me.

Transferring to Georgetown — and interacting with my peers with different backgrounds —

I came to understand that I wasn’t alone or unique. I came to see my experiences as part of a greater societal context.

I came to see that education cannot be separated from issues of social justice.

I came to realize that education is ultimately a political endeavor.

Where you go to high school —

Whether you go to high school at all —

Whether you have the tools and the resources to gain access to elite institutions like Georgetown are largely determined by your socioeconomic background  —

By your race —

By your immigration status —

The way we fund education itself – through property taxes – is a political decision.

My own struggle to claim an education – from GED to community college to Georgetown – was not an isolated incident…

It was part of larger systematic failures.

Like many people, I didn’t have access to mental health education or treatment.

Like many people, I fell through the cracks of our education system.

Georgetown has made an effort to make the student body more reflective of our society. They’ve invested in first-generation, low-income students and defended their undocumented students. GSP transformed my life, and it transformed the lives of my friend Maria, an undocumented student who will be teaching students with special needs, and my friend Celine, a Filipina student who worked at the highest court in the land.

When Georgetown levels the playing field for students like us, it’s not an act of charity, it’s an investment that yields returns. When given the opportunity, we thrive. The past four Truman Scholars at Georgetown have all been members of GSP. Three were people of color.

But the fight for equality can’t stop at the front gates of Healy Hall.

We have to take up the cause ourselves and go out into the world.

At this moment in time, we’re faced with rising levels of inequality and injustice, hate and violence.

Over our past four years, we’ve been told that we are heirs to the Jesuit tradition of social justice,

That we are people for others,

What that means, to me, is the command to use my education and privilege to challenge oppressive systems and stand with and among marginalized communities.

I hope you’ll join me in the fight.