To the Class of 2019: Remembering — Not Forgetting

May 20, 2019
8:31 AM

Flowers in bloom on Marston Quadrangle, Pomona College (Photo by Officialpomonacollege/CREDIT)

Presented at Pomona College’s Class Day

Congratulations seniors
Families and friends
Faculty and administration
It’s good to be here today
To recognize you all in this way
At this time of celebration
I offer some reflections
On remembering—not forgetting

To begin
I want to pause and acknowledge
the Tongva Gabrieleno people
On whose land we stand

I think about
Those in our community

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

Thanks to you all
for providing the foundation—the very sustenance of this place

Despite myths of meritocracy
Graduations and these celebrations
are never achieved individually
They’re always reached in collectivity
Through the work of communities
Usually inter-generationally
For many
this involves sacrifices from families—however created and defined

Nearly 40 years ago
My own father was sitting where families are today
I wasn’t a student here
An older family member was
And, as a child, I saw some of my father’s sacrifices for her to be here
I know that was decades ago, and some things have changed
But, for families and students who might relate
I share a few words
on what I’ve observed

My father like so many was an immigrant
Coming from Nicaragua in Centroamérica
A place long shaped by the US

He struggled in a whole host of ways in the USA
Doing all he could to fit in
But, his history, color, and ways of speaking were never quite right
And class disparities were materially and physically embodied
So, having a child here at a prestigious school that felt like worlds away wasn’t easy
There were class and generational gaps
That occasionally fueled strains
Even shame

Maybe my father knew the causes of these feelings
But, by the time I was old enough to explain
He had passed away

Recalling these memories sting
But, I share them to acknowledge all that families bring
Devoting time, money, energy and occasionally their very being
To our schooling

And just as families devote so much
What students say is that much of what they do is for family too
to repay
in some small way
the countless sacrifices
that are often
hidden away

I want to remember too
The families and friends not with us today
Those who have passed away
Those who could not afford the trip financially
Families who could not risk a flight physically
This, because of legacies of inequality
Generations of wealth disparity
Contemporary economic policies
And the tool of so-called homeland security

that contain and constrain opportunities
denying the fundamental right of mobility
hindering stability
separating way too many families

These are the conditions
That some can never forget
And they don’t need reminding
But, they mark what we are up against
So, they must be named

Part of remembering too is recognizing that 2019 is the year we celebrate Chicanx-Latinx Studies
—which like Africana Studies is in its 50th year at the Claremont Colleges
We are the second oldest CLS Department in the nation
The oldest at a liberal arts college
These victories stem from larger movements and student struggles
And, many of us are here today because of these legacies

For me
Remembering is key
Because too often
US schooling is about forgetting
Even if it teaches this unintentionally

Early on by sorting and dividing
Placing students onto unequal paths
Schooling separates and reinforces hierarchies

Drawing lines and breaking ties
Sometimes schools gentrify
Plowing through communities
And building over memories

Traditional curriculum often erases histories
Sugar coats inequalities
Ignores whole beings
Homogenizes identities
In a contemporary form of Americanizing

Some of us internalize these messages
Change our ways of being
Learn to mask feelings
And assume
“All are the same”

In these ways
Schooling can be dis-membering
The opposite of remembering

Yet, seniors
what I’ve learned from you
Is that sometimes it took coming here
Miles away from your own communities
To learn more about your histories and identities

And once here
You’ve brought so much energy
Showing us other ways
Standing up for yourselves and members in community
Through multiple means
Behind the scenes
and individually

I was on sabbatical the first semester for many of you—fall 2015
But, I admired you from afar
Reading The Student Life and lists of demands
Watching what was going on
I saw some of you join demonstrations here that were also happening nationally
Clearly proclaiming that Black Lives Matter
Pushing for Indigenous Studies
Queer Studies
More Faculty of Color
And de-stigmatizing mental health needs

After the fall 2016 election
I saw you organizing for sanctuary on campus and in local communities
Supporting Muslims, Immigrants and Refugees
While I did the same

For the remainder of your semesters
You’ve continued these displays of what I call transformational caring
Trying to change the wrongs of practices, policies and institutional deficiencies
And you’ve done so beautifully
Opening the door for more learning
Calling for greater transparency and accountability
In believing Survivors
And supporting Undoc, DACA, First Gen, and Low-Income students
Your organizing rooted in deep caring

I know I’m not alone in saying
That in the classroom too
You’ve extended our learning with new generational ways of thinking
Furthering the critiques of gender binaries that movements before started
Showing us: frameworks and languages need changing across disciplines
In my own department, you’ve ushered in the use of the x in Chicanx-Latinx Studies

Through Money Matters Week
You called for anti-classist pedagogies
Reminding faculty that we must ensure greater access to resources
And rethink our own assumptions

I’ve also seen your willingness to share emotionally in classrooms and offices
—through laughter, tears, fears and rage
Generously bringing in your stories
Refusing to check your identities at the door

Students coming after you
Describe how you’ve modeled
Genuine caring too in your everyday actions

For seniors who came here navigating new paths away from home
Including those who are the first in families to attend college
Seniors who are community college transfers
And graduating veterans
A special recognition to all of you

To the roses graduating
You know who you are
Always proving people wrong
Growing from concrete
As Tupac Shakur observed
Exuding strength in the midst of it all

It’s all these displays
That keep me hopeful
Especially in such trying times
While teaching here for over 20 years
So, thank you seniors for reminding
And showing us greater possibilities

Reflecting on your class
There are many ways I will remember you
From discussing My Beloved World and the visit by Justice Sotomayor
To your demonstrations
Alexander Hall Sit-ins
Campus Center teach-ins
And everyday actions

In all of these ways and more
You’ve powerfully reminded
Beautifully embodied
Not forgetting
Knowing that thriving involves more than surviving
You’ve given time and energy to make this a better place to be
Displaying transformational caring

Thank you for pushing beyond the classroom door
We know there’s so much more to do
And I remain critically hopeful
Because I’ve been honored to see a bit of who you are
what you’ve done
And what you’ll continue to do after you graduate


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.