Be true to yourself. Take time to think before changing course. And do not let anyone decide for you what you want to accomplish in life.
That was the advice that Sofía Merajver, a leading breast cancer researcher at the University of Michigan, had for more than 60 graduates who participated in this year’s Celebración Latina, held at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre in the Michigan League.
Organized by the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives and now in its 17th year, the annual graduation ceremony recognizes the academic achievement of Latino/a students at the university.
“There will be times when people come to your doorway holding a nice cup of coffee and his or her job will be to discourage you from pursuing something that is in your heart and that is driving you,” Merajver said. “I would like to advise you on those occasions to take your time to reflect, find your axis, connect with your culture, your own ancestral knowledge passed on to you by millennia of humanity, and find your path.
“Sometimes, you may decide to change course but do not let the person with the cup of coffee at your doorway decide your life course.”
Daniel Agudelo, who delivered the graduates’ speech, said he had to change plans several times during his college career.
Born in Miami to Colombian parents, he decided to study museology and art in what he considered the cradle of Western culture: Paris. But after one semester, he took a sharp turn and switched to the Institute of American Indian Arts in New Mexico, and later went to Florida International University. He finally found U-M in his third year.
“Maybe it’s even those unexpected experiences that made you decide to take a different route but, in the bigger scope of things, still in the same ballpark,” said. “It is both scary but inspiring to realize that the road to success never ends.
“I want to emphasize that my Michigan diploma doesn’t solely belong to myself, but to my parents as I wouldn’t have the opportunities without them, plucking their own feathers to allow me to have wings to fly. The Latino community has an equal stake in my diploma because if it weren’t for the blood, sweat and tears that have been shed to help cement the road to success, my road to success, your road to success, we would be going nowhere.’
To conclude his speech, Agudelo made the audience conjugate the verb “triumph” in Spanish.
“Yo triunfo, tú triunfas, él triunfa, ella triunfa, nosotros triunfamos, vosotros triunfais, ellos triunfan,” he and the audience said.
“When I triumph, we all triumph,” he emphasized.
Ashley Gómez, a native of Chicago, graduated in biopsychology and neuroscience. She said she was happy to participate in the ceremony. During her studies, she acknowledged, there were moments of doubt, but it was the support and encouragement of her family that kept her going. She is also the first in her family to go to college.
“My family sacrificed a lot for me to come here,” she said. “I’ve wanted to give up, but it was never really an option. Even if I take six, seven (years), I was going to do it.”
After the ceremony at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater, located in the Michigan League, families and friends attended a reception in the Michigan Union that included a dinner, a presentation of professional dance and a chance to dance, too.