Commencement Address to the Liberal Studies Program, Class of 2020
By Professor Mariana K. L. Ferreira
“If we are going to create a world where everybody has the opportunity to find a job, and afford college; if we’re going to save the environment and defeat future pandemics, then we’re going to have to do it together. So be alive to one another’s struggles.”
— President Barack Obama, May 16, 2020. Prime Time Event, “Graduate Together: High School Class of 2020 Commencement.” In: ‘It’s Going to Be Up to You”: Obama Challenges Graduates to Take Lead. (The New York Times. 5/17/20, p. 10).
Nature is filled with many lessons for us to learn. If you look closely when you walk outside, you will begin to notice one of the most amazing transformations in our great planet Earth. The Black Swallowtail butterfly, the Monarch butterfly and other insects like moths, are now beginning their lives scattered to the winds, their wings emerging wide and colorful from chrysalises hanging from the branches of fennel and milkweed. They begin their lives as tiny caterpillars, struggling against birds and wasps, aiming for bright skies and sweet nectar from a variety of plants, available in the SF Bay Area.
This Spring of 2020, as the world was going into lockdown, my family and I found several tiny black caterpillars on Fennel plants in our Berkeley neighborhood – their tiny bodies preparing for a great transformation into Swallowtail butterflies. Following a Bay Area (and nationwide) movement to protect butterflies, we brought Fennel plants home. We watched in awe as tiny caterpillars ate, slept, and grew into chrysalises, breaking out in a couple of weeks, with wings that carried them off to the wide reaches of our green planet.
Social distancing brought us close to the world of butterflies. Swallowtails allowed my family and I to reflect more deeply together on the struggle of College students nationwide. The coronavirus pandemic lockdown also scattered SF State students to the four winds, in many cases breaking up communities you depended on for support. This Spring, students in Human Rights Education (LS 402) and Social Science and Medicine (LS 404), reported on their lives away from campus, oftentimes in living situations that resembled chrysalises (or cocoons, in the case of moths).
Essays written for those two classes, and conversations with my LS colleagues, made it clear students were stressed out, suffering from panic attacks, loneliness, nightmares, homelessness, and hunger. Many were stuck in living quarters with no internet access, sharing rooms with friends and family, and taking care of siblings – all the while having to complete classes online in time for graduation. And now we learn how resilient most of you have been, facing sadness and anxiety, which are natural reactions to these very trying times of Covid-19. (And at the time of this writing, the nationwide protests against police brutality.) Many of you may not know what to do after graduation, but keep this in mind: Let us commemorate our Victories! Graduation is a hard-fought accomplishment for all of us, students, faculty and staff. Hurray!
Graduates, this world desperately needs your wings and imagination, your creativity and expertise. And of course this transformation requires work, dedication and a singular focus on achieving your goals. You are ready to face these challenges, you know what it takes to confront a problem head on, and you have proven that you have the grit and determination to see it through. As our country begins to emerge from this crisis, we see the inequalities in our society laid bare. You have a unique opportunity and responsibility as recent graduates to use all of your faculties and strengths to build the world that you want to see. You will face challenges, no doubt, but the strength you have gained through your education will ensure that you succeed.
School teachers, counselors, health educators, sign language translators! And those of you now interested in STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields! We applaud your optimism and courage. How generous of you to give to society, to the communities around you! That is the meaning of public service, which SF State is committed to.
“You’ve got more tools, technology, and talents than my generation ever did. No generation has been better positioned to be warriors for justice and remake the world.”
— President Barack Obama, May 16, 2020. Virtual Commencement Address to Historically Black Colleges and Universities - H.B.C.U. In: ‘It’s Going to Be Up to You”: Obama Challenges Graduates to Take Lead. (The New York Times. 5/17/20, p. 10).
On behalf of the Liberal Studies Program, our heartfelt compliments! Here’s to the class of 2020: To everything you have accomplished, and everything you will achieve! Be well, and take good care of yourselves.
The Liberal Studies faculty has singled out from our strong class of graduates two students for special honors.
Iliana Escobedo has shined in the Liberal Studies program, earning straight A's in all her courses across a wide range of subjects not only in the major, but throughout her whole college experience. Ms. Escobedo demonstrates hard work, insight, and creative flair, especially when assigned in-depth projects. Among her achievements include conducting in-depth ethnographic research at the STRUT SF organization in the Castro District; writing an essay on HIV prevention and resources available to gay, bi, trans, and HIV positive men (BGTQ); making a collaborative brochure on resources for low-income families and SFSU students in the Bay Area; a long research paper on teaching physical education in all-inclusive classrooms; another research paper on the poaching of sea turtles in Costa Rica; a lesson plan for teaching the problems with environmental pollution to K-6 children; several creative and thoughtful comics without any prior experience in drawing; and many more outstanding works.Our faculty agree the she excels with determination and enthusiasm, and brings great, positive energy to every class. For these excellent achievements, Ms. Escobedo was selected for the Liberal and Creative Arts Undergraduate Research Showcase in the Spring of 2019, where she displayed her final projects in comics and international development courses. With a Minor in Education, Ms. Escobedo plans to become a teacher.
Paris Gray is an outstanding student with a sharp intellect and a near-perfect academic record. Ms. Gray always comes to class with a deep understanding of assigned material and engages her peers in meaningful discussion that elevates the dialogue. Her scholarship exhibits graduate-level critical thinking and writing skills in carefully crafted essays on a wide variety of subjects. Among Ms. Gray's more notable works include a manifesto on racial justice; an essay on the land rights of the Zulu people in South Africa; a lesson plan on immigration for fifth graders using comic books and graphic novels; another lesson plan for second grade students using art to engage with folktales; a poster on preventing STDs; an essay on the poetry of Conrad Aiken, Octavio Paz, and Cesar Vallejo; and an essay on reconstructive narratives in novels by William Faulkner and Garbriel García Márquez. Her capstone project seeks to establish deep connections between teachers and students belonging to different racial and class communities. With a Minor in Creative and World Literature, Ms. Gray is pursuing a teaching career.
For details on SF State’s plans to celebrate the class of 2020, please visit the Commencement website.