Spring 2013 Commencement Address by Maria Gomez, Founder and CEO of Mary’s Center
Good afternoon class of 2013, let us take a minute of silence, holding hands with one another to thank the All Mighty God for enabling us to be together as one community celebrating you, your children, your extended family, friends and the distinguished Trinity Board of Directors, faculty and Alumnae.
You are another successful story that is often not written about, a story of perseverance and leadership, a story of following your moral compass with plenty of room for tolerance and compassion. A story about a college under the leadership of President Pat McGuire, who is involved in every powerful board room to assure that your voice is not only heard but that many more doors continue to open in every job market to guarantee your success in the workforce after today.
Trinity has made a commitment to this region to train local women and men, who I know are committed, and end up back in their own communities serving and being those extraordinary role models for the next generation to follow. Trinity Washington University is not just an educational institution. It is a community development corporation that demands rigor and results. That is why it is indeed a privilege to be here with you today delivering your commencement speech.
Parents and family members, thank you for your support and commitment to stick around with these graduates through their most joyful and not so joyful moments. I know of what I speak â I have my daughter Amalia with me today, and she is about to graduate from high school. Those challenging days were painful but my husband and I will be the proudest parents in a few weeks. Proud like you, because we know that this educational journey that your kids have chosen will take them places that you have only dreamed of and will get them in doors that may never have been open for you. But isn’t one of our most valuable gifts to our children to inspire and support them to accomplish their dreams?
It is truly a blessing for those of you graduates who have families that love you no matter what and who will stand beside you the rest of your life.
Graduates, to you I say cherish your family and thank them by proudly taking this next journey.
For those of you who made this journey on your own, without family support, you have my deepest respect and admiration and I urge you to stay in touch with your friends and faculty at Trinity where you have built a family that will be there for you for the rest of your life.
This journey is just beginning and it is a journey that will begin to pay dividends daily starting today. The famous actor Edward James Olmos who starred in the movie “Stand and Deliver” said the following at a gathering, “Take care of your family first. But then reach out to your neighbor, your block, your city, your country. Everybody wants change, but they want it to come by way of somebody else. If you wait for the government, you’ll wait a long time.”
You have opened a door to success and now you must not let anyone take that away from you and your family. It is a proud moment whether you are the first to go to college or not. It is your journey and your destiny. Whether you are in the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Nursing and Health Professions, the School of Professional Studies or the School of Education, this is your vocation now. Explore it, exploit it and more importantly, it is your duty to contribute to the development of that field. To make it practical and results-oriented and to make sure that with every criticism of the system you are equally motivated to improve it.
You now are armed with the knowledge and the power to truly improve the health of the community around you. You will have the power for the children under your inspirational tutelage to dream every night about going to college and never having to say if I go to college because your teaching and guidance will alter them for life. The beauty is that those successful children will pay it forward 10 times over.
You will have the opportunity in your job to do things differently, to offer innovation, to solve problems of inefficiency and productivity and to bring life back into the workforce. You will have the opportunity to challenge administration and co-workers to reach for the stars. You will have the opportunity to encourage your team that every mistake is a learning experience and even a transformational opportunity. Always stay focused on the prize and the people that seek your help, knowledge and professional services. In the words of another civil rights leader, Ceasar Chavez, “the fight is never about grapes or lettuce. It is always about people.”
I used to find it hard to talk about my own journey because it was not an easy one, but also it often seemed like my life was a breeze when compared to the hundreds of life stories that have crossed my professional life.
Growing up in Colombia, South America, with a mother who worked 16 hours a day, I only remember lots of lonely days and nights and falling asleep dreaming about what life could be. Even with so many hours of work, we sometimes went to bed hungry, but I always felt loved and protected. Tired and hungry, Mother always had time to teach reading, writing and basic math to me, other children in the neighborhood and their parents. With her few years of elementary school education she inspired others to learn. Dad was killed before I was born while in the mountains, teaching the same basic education, but he was accused of preaching communism. My parents lived a life that is best described by the words of Luis Olivares, a Catholic priest from San Antonio who declared his Los Angeles church a sanctuary for Central American refugees. His impassioned sermon once said, “You cannot be witness to the human suffering and not be convinced of the existence of social sin. We are responsible unless we take a stand and speak out against it.”
But with a soon-approaching teenager, my mother lonely, persistent and with a heart of gold got us to Falls Church, Virginia, caring for very privileged children. As a teenager in Virginia without any knowledge of the English language, with the civil rights movement at its peak, lots of hate around me and DC on fire the transition to this new world was traumatic to say the least. The only Latinos at that time were the children of the most elite; we had nothing in common. My classmates could not communicate with us, so the only alternative was to learn English quickly and well, to be able to defend myself from the insults and the personal injuries that came from every corner of the classroom including the students, teachers, counselors and administrators. Vernon Law, a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball player, once said, “Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards.”
But even through all that trauma we had a safe home and food every night (hamburgers, eggs, hot dogs, milk-needless to say I gained 40 pounds in six months.) I was like a sponge absorbing not only food but also every book through my veins. Back home there were no books, the teachers wrote everything on the board and you wrote like crazy before they erased it and went unto the next subject. I still blame my horrendous handwriting on that experience of my early years.
I always felt like perseverance was my middle name. Mother used to say “work hard, strive for perfection and learn to pick up the pieces when you fail.”
Compassion and loyalty are two traits that I am constantly trying to perfect and to instill in my daughter Amalia, and at my place of work, Mary’s Center, the center that I helped established 25 years ago with a group of committed individuals. All of us who were tired of how the system was treating immigrants in this city, now a model of care for the nation where we integrate health care, social services and family literacy and job training. With the goal to guarantee that children are born when families are ready for them, that the entire family stays healthy, supported throughout their life cycle and during their most vulnerable moments, while making sure that parents move up the economic ladder through education and become their child’s first and best teacher.
I tell my story to remind you of your story. Of your struggles and of your strengths that have gotten you here today. Celebrate your wins, your knowledge, your beautiful family and friends and remember that you have the opportunity to create miracles that will bring joy and peace to many in this region who are lonely and living in turmoil because they are feeling abandoned. The Jewish Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said “most things worth doing in the world had been declared impossible before they were done.”
Remember to always ask yourself, ” Am I still a compassionate and kind person? Am I a problem solver and considerate of others? Am I a person who pays it forward? When you have that job and you are standing proud of your Trinity education and you are doing well, will you be thinking of doing good too?”
Are you thinking about that student that is presently at Trinity struggling to get to college because they have no transportation money, or money for books or rent? Are you thinking about the future of this beautiful campus and the scholarly professors that will continue to rotate through this college? I know you will, so please set aside a few dollars with every paycheck and begin your philanthropic life with Trinity.
I leave you to ponder deeply about how you will continue to develop your leadership. How you will persevere even under much duress. How your moral compass will lead you to expand your tolerance for all that is different and for the diversity around you and how compassion will drive you to do extraordinary things regardless of the many titles that you receive after your name. I leave you with a quote from the great African-American leader and educator Booker T. Washington, “I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.”
May God bestow upon you much health and faith in humanity to rest your healing hands and your abundant heart on everyone that comes into your lives. Thank you for the privilege and the time to share my story with you.