Text below adapted from President McGuire’s Remarks to New Students on August 23, 2019
Good morning! This morning we welcome 325 new students into the College of Arts & Sciences! I am so pleased to welcome the CAS Class of 2023 and all of our new Trinity students!
I want to tell you a bit about YOU, the new students of Trinity:
You are, mostly, Millennium Women — most of you were born in the years 2000 through 2002, but a sizeable group were born before the year 2000, and 30 or more — were born in 1990 or before.
You are a remarkably diverse class, hailing from 21 states most immediately — DC, MD, VA, NC, GA, NY, FL, SC, CA, IL, KY, ME, MS, OK, OR, TX, MN, MI, WI, OH, PA.
You were born in 30 different countries including the United States, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Angola, Botswana, Brazil, Central African Republic, Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire, Germany, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Bolivia, Cuba, Haiti, Indonesia, Panama, Philippines, Sierra Leone, Thailand, Ukraine. You are truly citizens of the world.
You plan to major in Nursing, Business, Biology, Criminal Justice, Psychology, Education, Journalism, International Affairs and many other disciplines.
Nearly two-thirds of this class speak more than one language at home, and in addition to English you speak Spanish, Amharic, French, Fante, Yoruba, Akan, Portuguese, Bahasa, Creole, Polish, Russian, Thai and American Sign Language.
You are called, most frequently, Monica, Kayla, Maria, Ashley.
The top high schools in this class include Columbia Heights, Roosevelt, Capital City Public Charter School, Don Bosco Cristo Rey, EL Haynes, Coolidge, Dunbar, Banneker, Wilson, Cardozo, Archbishop Carroll, and others.
You are Christian and Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, 7th Day Adventist, Buddhist, Muslim.
You are very talented: you work in many different types of businesses and organizations, you volunteer countless hours, play many sports, are student leaders.
The Honor Pledge and Trinity Medal Ceremony
Now, I am going to come back in a little bit and talk more about you. But first, we have the important matter of bestowing upon you the Trinity Medal, and having you sign the Honor Pledge which is the bedrock principle of our way of life at Trinity.
The Honor Agreement is our way of life at Trinity, and it’s been our tradition since the founding. We expect you to live lives of honor and integrity, and to help each other to do so. This sets Trinity apart from many other schools and many places of business today.
You are starting your academic lives at Trinity in a time fraught with national concern over racial hatred and symbols of egregious racism, over the treatment of immigrants and extreme bias against persons for other reasons — Muslims, gay or transgender individuals, persons whose beliefs, language, culture customs, skin color or political beliefs seem different from those who claim center stage. The mission and values of Trinity, as embodied in our Honor System, reject any and all acts and words of hatred against other individuals; we welcome, honor and respect everyone here at Trinity and we expect you to treat every other person you encounter here with the respect and dignity they deserve.
In the same way, the Honor Code also rejects lies and upholds truth. Unfortunately, too many people in the headlines these days do not seem to have any respect for the truth. They are not your role models. And there is no room at Trinity for “fake news” or “alternative facts.” We expect far more of you here at Trinity, and telling the truth, doing your academic work with honesty and integrity is fundamental to everything we do. Live by the Honor Code and you will do well.
As part of this ceremony you will also receive the Trinity Medal, a symbol of your entrance into the Trinity community and commitment to the values of the Honor System.
The Trinity Medal has, on its front, the image of Our Lady – Notre Dame – the patron of the Sisters of Notre Dame who founded Trinity in 1897. In those days, women did not have the opportunity to go to college in Washington, D.C. The Sisters of Notre Dame saw that was wrong, a grave injustice, so they worked hard to establish Trinity. Your Trinity Medals are symbols — symbols of the power of women to change the world. Wear them well, wear them with pride, never do anything to disgrace them, show the world why you have the distinction as a woman of power to wear this medal starting today and every day henceforth!
Voices of New Students – Reflections from Application Essays
Before we leave here this morning, I want to share a little more about you. I have read your applications to Trinity, including the essays you wrote in those applications. I have taken some anonymous quotes from your essays as evidence of the strength and resilience and power of this class.
You are remarkable, tenacious, ambitious, phenomenal women. You have experienced a lot in your lives already. Your essays are full of hope, sorrow, love, anger, fortitude. You have triumphed over illness, the deaths of loved ones, homelessness, poverty, perilous journeys across borders that were both physical and psychological. You have demonstrated the grit, resilience, inventiveness and vision to succeed. You are now Trinity Women!
Many of you write about triumphing over low expectations for what you can achieve, and this theme is so important to lift up. This student writes about it in a compelling voice:
“I was always told that I’d only graduate from high school to work and pay bills. But when I was younger, I thought to myself there has to be so much more than just this. … I decided that I wanted to be more than what everyone expected, I wanted to be the one in my family who really set the expectations high. I want to be the one that people in my family say with pride in their voice, “She did it!” I want to be the one who set the change in our family history.”
And you are doing exactly that today!
“The time spent in boot camp was unlike anything I’ve ever imagined. We were challenged mentally with academic tests, stress, and learning how to survive in numerous situations on the spot. My body was in shock with all of the running, combat training, and living in the wilderness for weeks to fend for ourselves. Being a person who at one point spoke to no one, now I had to lead fifty other women to complete our mission. … Each day, I learned a new strength I never knew I had. Women in my squadron were coming to ME for guidance and leadership. We were all learning how to work together and pushed each other to the finish line. The mental thoughts that at one point were telling me I wouldn’t be anything were now being defeated by thoughts of self-love and self-motivation.”
You have had some remarkable role models in your lives to help shape your choices about careers and commitments:
“When I was 13 years old, I went to the Philippines for the first time with my grandmother. We spent some time visiting different provinces within the country. The most meaningful experience was when I participated in my aunt’s annual medical mission. She is one of the few pediatric physicians in her province. …Every year she travels to the impoverished regions to deliver medical care. This experience opened my eyes to things I simply took for granted. …After this eye opening experience I came back to America with a raging thirst to pursue a career in the health field.”
You are deeply committed to improving the lives of others and transforming social systems to be more just:
“My experience at Trinity…will help me identify better ways to improve our current healthcare system, to ensure that those who are most vulnerable have a chance to feel equal, safe and protected in any circumstances they have. …Trinity’s mission to educate and elevate young women of color who are often kept out of the education system, heavily aligns with my desire to serve the same population of people who have also been isolated from receiving fair and affordable healthcare and medical assistance.”
You have great reverence for your mothers:
“At one of the darkest moments in my life, a wise woman once said “you just have to step into your greatness. You just have to do your very best. You just have to be happy. You just have to make a contribution -that will bring contentment, and that will bring joy.” This woman …is a matriarch, a businesswoman, and most importantly, my mother. She is a leader in every facet of her life, and the greatest influence in mine. My mother grew up without her biological mother in [another country] and at the age of seventeen, she became the first one of her siblings to come to the United States of America all alone and as an immigrant. While in America, she built her life from the ground up. … Because of my mother, I am proud of the woman I am today.”
And another writes,
“I witnessed my mom struggle financially and emotionally. There are times where she isn’t able to pay bills because she has to make sure we have food daily. Yet, she always found ways to overcome her struggles, which showed me that she is a strong woman. My mom is my super hero, my idol, the person that I look up to the most. She has showed me to how be resilient and to never give up.”
“[My mother] had an unbearably hard life in [her native country]. Her family was very poor and as a child she had to work to help out. At 10, her first job was picking cotton from fields. She worked for two months to buy herself her first pair of shoes. …By the time she was my age she had had a million jobs. Since she came to America she has had hard, strenuous jobs, but not once have I heard her complain…My mother’s strong work ethic has been an inspiration to our family. She is my greatest motivator, support and who I aspire to be…”
“My dad fought in the army in [our native country], and after serving, he started working. This prevented him from finishing his education, but he still possesses knowledge and wisdom…I remember fondly some of the things he has said, like, “If you don’t show respect for yourself. there is no one in this world that is actually going to take you seriously.”
A number of you also have children of your own, and some as teen parents. This student writes a common sentiment:
“Becoming a mother at a young age was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. Becoming a mom made me a more driven, responsible, and wise young lady. I learned that no matter the challenge or obstacle there wasn’t anything that I couldn’t overcome or accomplish.”
“Honestly, while I was in [my home country] I thought that my dream would never come true. Family problems, financial issues, and lack of educational opportunities made it hard for me to progress. For this reason, I moved to the United States…When I arrived, I felt an overwhelming feeling of hope, like the refugee characters in my books about war, when they arrive in a new country. … I was exposed to a new language, new culture, new family, new people, and new lifestyle without my parents. Nevertheless, I was very positive, because I knew that from hard situations, new opportunities would come. …I know that the knowledge, wisdom, and skills that I will learn in college will make it possible for me to achieve my “American Dream.”
When this student was in elementary school and her family immigrated to the U.S., she faced considerably bullying from other children including being told to “go back” to her native land. As she grew older, she reflected:
“…this experience had a positive impact on me. Being a victim of bullying because I was an immigrant made me a more open-minded individual. I will never judge or dismiss anyone because they are different from me. I have learned that you shouldn’t judge another individual because they don’t share the same beliefs and experiences as you, whether that be cultural, religious, or financial. This experience also made me become a more confident individual. …I’ve learned that you shouldn’t allow the opinions of others keep you from being who you are. I’ve also learned that there is nothing wrong with asking for help. Overall, this experience has played a major role in molding me into a strong, intelligent, confident young woman.”
You have wonderful interests and avocations. One plays the violin, another has a singing career, still others love writing. This student writes of her love of gardening which she received from her grandfather:
“…gardening is so much more than just digging a hole and planting. …gardening brings me joy…Beyond the beautiful flowers and plants lies a sense of comfort and purity. Gardens not only bring a community together, but they also motivate others to have positive emotions and encourage the desire for individual well-being. … The magnificence of one little flower is truly fascinating. …The beauty about the life of plants and nature is that humans are given hope, and without hope there is no life. Hope is what fuels me to continue living every day.”
This student went on an Outward Bound adventure in the wilderness and it changed her perspective on the environment:
“This trip really changed the way I viewed the relationship between humans and the environment. When you get to enjoy your time away from the noise, the lights, and the people of a big city, it makes you realize how much you depend on the environment to survive…. At the Outward Bound camp, I learned that we don’t only harm the environment with trash, we also harm it by putting invasive species where they don’t belong. I decided to continue pursuing my passion for the environment by participating in other outdoor programs later on.” And now she wants to find a career in this area.
Many of you are the first in your families to attend college. You know how much this means, and you can’t wait for graduation day! This student plans to be a doctor, and she writes,
“To me, education is key to a better life and guides us to our goals. My goal is to be the first in my family to have the privilege to go to college, an opportunity my parents never had. I know that this seemingly simple step on entering a college campus and taking classes may not seem like a huge deal. However, for my family, it represents generations of struggle. It represents hope for a brighter future where my children and their children will now go college without a doubt.
“I plan to complete my undergraduate degree in Nursing and Global Health …I saw people struggling with their health back home in [my native country], and it shocked me to see that people in America are struggling with the same issues. Medicine is something that I am interested in learning more about. Through the experiences that college offers, I want to travel and learn about public health across the country to better help those that are unable to receive the treatment they need.”
And this student:
“I aspire to be an immigration lawyer in order to change the circumstances of those who are most vulnerable to social and legal injustices. Immigration lawyers have a great impact on many lives. In my case, an immigration lawyer assisted in protecting my mother from removal proceedings to [our native country]. My mom was pulled over in December 2011, because one of her back lights was out, and since she was undocumented, she was arrested. …Although this traumatic situation was indeed challenging, it inspired me to pursue a career as an immigration attorney. As an immigration attorney, I will be able to assist families facing similar challenges. I hope to one day help the undocumented community the way [a] lawyer helped keep my family together.”
Our world needs your talent, your passion, your commitment and drive so urgently.
You have been in the white-hot center of so many of the fires raging in our society and culture today.
You are keenly aware of the appalling effects of racism and ethnic hatred. You have experienced the destruction wrought by injustice and oppressive governmental policies on immigration. You have lived on both sides of the equation, reaping benefits from civil rights and human rights laws and policies, and knowing the terrible results that occur when a government reneges on its promises for freedom and justice. You have known the debilitating effects of systems that fail to address conditions of poverty and violence. You are deeply committed to using your education to ensure a better future for your children and families, and you have a large sense of your social obligation to work for the common good and social justice in your communities and countries.
All of us at Trinity — our faculty and staff, your sister students, trustees, alumnae and benefactors — all of us are deeply devoted to ensuring your success in your journey through college. This is not an easy journey. You will find some of the days very hard, some of the terrain quite rough. You will have moments when you want to stop, turn back, abandon the pathway. We are here to help get you back on track, to stay the course, to find the better pathways through the rough spots. It is our job to challenge you — higher learning that does not perplex and challenge and exhaust you at times is not worthy of the name. You will learn to be successful NOT because you have mastered everything easily, but because you have struggled to master the knowledge and skills that you find most daunting, the ones that will make you truly successful in life beyond college.
And on those hard days, remember and be inspired by the idea that many successful women went through similar moments before you, and they persisted and triumphed. You know, of course, women like Nancy Pelosi, Trinity Class of 1962, the most powerful woman in the country and the only woman ever elected Speaker of the House — twice! You may know of Maggie Williams, Class of 1977, who was the highest ranking African American in the Clinton White House when she was chief of staff to First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. Perhaps you heard of Liana Fiol Matta, Class of 1968, who recently retired after serving as chief justice of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court, but she is one of hundreds of Trinity women who went on to great success in law and justice. You may not have heard of, but perhaps you will meet some day, women like Sydney Cross ’10 who is a humanitarian analyst with the U.S. Department of State, or so many other Trinity women who went on to distinguished careers in public service, teaching, healthcare and other positions working for the common good.
And, like them, you sit here today blessed by the vision and wisdom of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, the courageous women who founded Trinity 122 years ago, whose educational boldness and spiritual commitment continue to guide Trinity today. Our founders are surely smiling on YOU, our newest Trinity students. And we pray with them that the power, wisdom and love of the Trinity will accompany you each day of this exciting new journey through higher learning.
Congratulations, and welcome!
NEXT: RESULTS OF THE STRAW POLL OF NEW STUDENTS! Check back later this week to find out who the new students would vote for if the presidential election were held today!!