Multiethnic Graduation Celebration Address
By Delia Garcia ’93, Director of Communications, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and Member of the Saint Mary’s College Board of Trustees
President Mooney, members of the Cabinet, faculty, staff, parents, family members, and, especially, graduating Belles…I am immensely honored to have been asked to share some words with you this evening.
I want to thank the Student Diversity Board, the Office of Multicultural Services, and the Office of Student Affairs for their kind and gracious invitation.
I’m honored to be the first alumna keynote speaker at the Multiethnic Graduation Celebration and I have been looking forward to this event for months!
I had the privilege 12 years ago to speak at the inauguration celebration for President Mooney and to reflect on my experiences at Saint Mary’s and how the college impacted my life. My conclusion was that it wasn’t WHAT happened to me at Saint Mary’s that made the difference. It’s WHO happened. The people—faculty, staff, and administrators—who touched my life and changed it for the better.
I’m grateful to have an opportunity to be with you tonight as the sun sets on President Mooney’s tenure as president and to bookend with a similar reflection about you.
I hope each of you have the privilege someday to come back to this place we hold dear and speak to a roomful of beautiful, smart, confident young women as they prepare to turn the page to the next chapter of their lives.
Maybe in 2033, when my daughter Maddie is graduating and I’ll be the one sitting in the audience filled with a whirlwind of emotions as I celebrate this momentous milestone in her life.
What would you say to her and those young women? What would you say that would at the same time inspire them and give them peace of mind as they face the future?
Last week, I had the pleasure of hosting a small reception with Phoenix-area alumnae for our incoming President Jan Cervelli. It was a wonderful gathering with alumnae from as far back as 1957 and as recent as 2012. I asked them for their thoughts on this question and I like how one alumna put it:
You’ve got this. You are more prepared than you know.
So my first piece of advice for you is this: Trust Yourself.
Trust your instincts.
Four years ago, YOU chose Saint Mary’s College.
Until then, if you were like most kids, your grade school and high school were your parent’s choices and were mostly determined by where your parents chose to live, which was likely determined by their place of employment.
But Saint Mary’s was YOUR choice.
Even for those of you who are legacy students. It was your choice.
And it’s a choice that set the cornerstone of your adulthood and your future.
Saint Mary’s College is the cornerstone of your future.
What does a cornerstone do? What is its purpose? A cornerstone is the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation and all other stones are set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the entire structure.
The setting of the cornerstone determines the structure’s place in the world.
…It’s place in the world. In thinking of the purpose of a cornerstone, I am reminded of Sister Madeleva’s promise:
“We promise you discovery: the discovery of yourselves, the discovery of the universe and your place in it.”
Saint Mary’s College promises to help you discover—to set—your place in the universe.
Why is it important to set your place in the universe?
Well, here is what you need to know—the universe changes…and it’s changing rapidly. Now more than ever, we need women like you…but who are you?
Saint Mary’s is the cornerstone and all other stones are set in reference to it.
What are some of the other “stones” that you have set during your time here? Confidence. Knowledge. Critical Thinking. Aesthetic Appreciation. Adaptability. Independent Thinking. Service to Others. Passion. Leadership.
What other “stones” would you say you’ve set during your time at Saint Mary’s?
If I had more blocks, I would add each of those “stones” to the structure I’m building here.
Our world desperately needs more women like you, like the women you have become during your time at Saint Mary’s College.
And I want to emphasize this point—you have become all of these things and more during your time at Saint Mary’s College.
Saint Mary’s didn’t make you this way—who you are was determined long before you chose Saint Mary’s College. Before you took your first breath even.
Psalm 139 says: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb…Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
Who you were meant to be was determined before time began. Saint Mary’s College as the cornerstone—the choice YOU made four years ago--has help shape you so that you can be who you were meant to be—a woman of character, confident in her abilities, faithful to her values, humble in her service. An independent thinker and leader.
So, trust yourself. You’ve got this. You are more prepared than you know.
My second piece of advice is: Be humble.
Yes, you are all that and a bag of chips, as my husband would say.
‘You are smart. But there are a lot of smart people in the world.
You are confident. But you can find a lot of confident people walking around out there also.
You are a leader. We have lots of those, too.
You are all of the things that we’ve already said our world needs more of.
But what makes you different is how you use all of those attributes. What sets you apart is the cornerstone you chose, how it was set during your time here, and how all the other stones are placed in reference to it today, tomorrow, and for the rest of your life.
Do you know that there are approximately 4,100 colleges and universities?
According to the Washington Post, if you add-in all of the “institutions of higher learning,” including those that are not either a 2 or 4-year institution, there are more than 5,300 colleges and universities in the United States.
How many of those are women’s colleges? About 45 and the number is getting smaller.
How many are Catholic women’s colleges? I don’t know the number, but it’s far fewer.
As soon-to-be graduates of a Catholic women’s college, you are not like everyone else. You are different.
But don’t let your difference make you haughty. Scripture tells us “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” And so let your difference be the cause for your humility.
I don’t know all of you graduating Belles personally, but I know each of you has been richly blessed.
If for no other reason than the fact you are here today and come Saturday you’ll claim Saint Mary’s College as your alma mater, I know you are blessed.
Use your gifts for the benefit of others, not for your own aggrandizement, and you won’t have to tell others how special you are, they will see it with their own eyes.
Finally, I know it sounds cliché but I want to say to you: Life is a journey.
I almost said “Life is like a box of chocolates,” but that really would have been corny.
Life is a journey. You will go through hills and valleys. It will have twists and turns. But here’s the thing to remember: the journey need not be aimless.
So often when we say “life is a journey” it’s in reaction to life not working out the way we planned or hoped it would. We have been taken off track and we are enjoying the scenic route. I tell my husband, “I’m never lost. It might take me a little longer to get to where I’m going, but I’ll get there.”
I think sometimes the underlying sentiment when we say “life is a journey” is that we are just wandering around from place to place in our lives, we’re on a journey without a destination, or maybe there is a destination but we’re like the Israelites wandering the desert—we just don’t know how to get there.
It can certainly seem this way if we are focused on reaching specific landmarks like that dream job we worked so hard to get, the really cool city we are moving to, or the perfect person—our soulmate.
Well, here’s a spoiler alert: life isn’t going to work out the way you planned or hoped.
A few years from now, you might get downsized from that dream job. Or you might have to move from that really cool city to a small town that isn’t so very cool.
You might have a rainy graduation. J I’m sure none of you envisioned that at any time in your career here!
Or, as I discovered, you might get married, then divorced.
You might get married again to a cowboy from Montana who looks more like the Marlboro Man—or at least he did before he shaved his mustache---than the Prince Charming of your little girl dreams…although he did have the white horse--that’s part of being a cowboy…and you might suddenly have step-daughters, a scenario that wasn’t imagined in your musings about your future.
You might go into pre-term labor at 6½ months and lose your first child, your hopes of motherhood smashed to pieces. A burial instead of banquet. That wasn’t in the plans either.
And you might have a beautiful baby girl when you’re 40.
I never imagined or anticipated that my journey after Saint Mary’s would include any of these experiences. If you had asked me in May 1993 where I would be 23 years later, my answer would have fallen short of reality.
And if I was focused solely on the experiences—on these landmarks, so to speak--my journey might seem aimless.
But it is not aimless. Because I set my cornerstone and all other stones are set in relation to it. I know my place in the universe.
Saint Mary’s shaped the person I became…and the person I became helped me to meet each of those unexpected turns with confidence and grace and, most importantly, with faith.
Hebrews 11 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
We are not on an aimless journey. We are on a faithful journey.
And the success of that journey isn’t defined by the physical landmarks we achieve; the ones you can see—the job, the city, the person—which can all change.
No, our journey is defined by how we respond in those moments when life seems to get off track. For it’s in those moments that what has been poured into us, will flow out of us.
So, while I might not be in the place I would have envisioned 23 years ago, I AM the person I would have aspired to be.
My wish for you, is that you will be able to say the same thing about yourself when you’re standing at this podium in May 2033.
As you prepare to depart Saint Mary’s, to say goodbye to the place that has been your home for the last four years, remember:
Trust yourself. You’ve got this. You are more prepared than you know.
Be humble. And use that which makes you special for the benefit of others, not just your own aggrandizement.
Be faithful. The universe will change. It will throw you curve balls you weren’t expecting.
But you need not worry.
Your cornerstone has been firmly placed and you have everything you need to meet whatever challenges life throws at you.