Ode to the Class of 2017: A Poem

It’s great to be here today
to recognize you all in this way
I want to be here fully in celebration
but I can’t without first naming some realizations
I offer these reflections
with all humility
in the lessons you’ve taught me, class of 2017
Please know, I didn’t set out to rhyme
that’s just how the words flowed this time
The severity of the issues remain
I just speak them with little academic refrain
First,
There are too many families and friends not with us today
Those who could not afford the trip fin-an-cially
Families who could not risk a flight phys-ically
This, because of legacies of in-equal-ity
Generations of wealth disparity
Contemporary economic policies
and the tool of so-called homeland security
that contain and constrain opportunities,
denying the right of mobility,
hindering fundamental stability,
tormenting our communities and
separating way too many fam-il-ies

Then, there are loved one whose lives have been cut short
sometimes at the hands of the state
There are also our class-mates, students and friends—who were to be here today
celebrating and graduating
trying                     to            get          an education
bringing                 so much                 inspiration
Some, still waiting for an explanation…

Secondly, I think
about
those in our commun-ity
who form the base of this place —
who clean, and feed, and ensure the beauty of this space
whose labor —emotional and physical— is too often erased
always fighting for dig-nity,
demanding their rights and sheer human-ity
this is not how it should be

Next, I think
about
what is the purpose of education
is it cultural and structural assimilation
bell hooks says it’s about liberation
Chicana/o Studies urges political actual-ization
Paulo Freire writes Pedagogy of the Oppressed
For many of us,
it is about reflection and action
We need radical transform-ation,
especially with
so much violence and decimation
environmental degradation,
criminalization,
militarization,
massive incarceration,
detention and deportation,
neoliberalism and privitization
and in the words of Collins – a sociologist
Eurocentric masculinist knowledge validation process
Eurocentric masculinist knowledge validation process
How are we complicit in the midst of all of this?
How are we complicit in the midst of all of this?

Yet,
some students say they are torn
Speeding
past demonstrations
To get to class
to learn
about processes of inequality,
systems of domination,
theorizing about the past
Leaving little time to be
today with people and struggle in action
This fast-paced society—leaving no time to pause is affecting us all
This fast-paced society—leaving no time to pause is affecting us all

And,
when
students —especially of color— enact their educations
apply their critical imaginations
provide thorough interrogations
show leadership by naming misrepresentations
disrupt racist manifestations
why must they contend with false allegations that dehumanize
why must they contend with false allegations that dehumanize
Are we incentivized to normalize the status quo
Are we incentivized to normalize the status quo

Finally, in the midst of so much inequality, how do we build community
Finally, in the midst of so much inequality, how do we build community
by getting out of the fog,
clearing the racism Tatum refers to as smog
naming and reframing multiple hierarchies
understanding hook’s work on white supremacist, capitalist, hetero-patriarchy
and Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality
It’s about more than just multiple identities

Eliminating institutionalized disparities
Not reinforcing narrow notions of authenticity
Ditching theories of biological and cultural deficiency
Abolishing academic profiling
In the words of Susan Coutin,
re-membering our histories
Practicing Valenzuela’s authentic caring

Listen – ing
Sometimes, families re-socializing
and occasionally re-educating us faculty
this isn’t easy, especially in our society
some politicians would rather scapegoat so-called enemies
And propagate lies
instead of having us realize
what is at stake
when systems of inequality proliferate
what is at stake when systems of inequality proliferate

Thank you, class of 2017, for not confining your learning to papers and classroom walls,
but instead for taking it out in public for us all
by working individually
and collectively
in solidarity
in schools, communities, know your rights, planting trees, marching
against police brutality
in the streets of Claremont in 2014
challenging the presidency in fall 2016
for diversity and inclusivity with faculty
in support of campus workers al-ways
unapologetically
with much resiliency
and tomorrow out of the campus gates
continuing to collaborate
to create another kind of place,
to make a different type of space
and in that, we celebrate
and in that, we celebrate

***

Gilda L. Ochoa teaches Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies at Pomona College. Her latest book is Academic Profiling: Latinos, Asian Americans and the Achievement Gap.

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