Speech: Closing Words for ENGL271

Buttercup field against an overcast sky

I’m so grateful you signed up for ENGL271. When I got this teaching assignment, I was furious. The commute would be horrible. I wouldn’t get enough sleep. I’d be on campus too many days. And then I met you all on day one, and I could tell you were interested in learning and growing. I’m so honored to have been part of your journey. For some of you, this class was just another class, and for some of you, this class energized you. Regardless of how you felt about this course, you mattered and matter to me. This has been my first year of grad school, and this was the first time I taught college students.

About my student experience: I’ve had few Latinx teachers & professors, and most of them taught me Spanish language or Spanish literature. One of my fears this semester was that I wouldn’t be what a Latina professor is supposed to be, and that being a language learner, some of you would find me frustrating. Research shows that some students think professors with an accent are less intelligent and are more likely to question their authority and expertise. I can add, based on my personal experience, those things are more likely to happen to women. This semester, I’ve learned that you all needed someone that cared about you, someone who saw you as a person. I, too, want to be seen as a person in the classroom. This is why I’ve invited you to use my name, with or without my “Professor” title.

Most days I don’t remember I’ve been teaching since 2013. My experiences range from tutoring online to teaching outside in a park. Over the years, I have gained the wisdom to recognize that all young people are a treasure. A few of you may have heard the following: human brains fully develop in their early 20s. Other research suggests that brains finish developing by age 30. So, I hope you felt nurtured and empowered to grow in this class.

One of the ways I’ve been growing this past year is learning to share my ideas. I’ve been an introvert my whole life, and as a student this has meant, I’ve spoken very little in class. Like some of you, I told myself that I was more interested in what others had to say. I tried to overcome this by visiting professors during office hours to pose questions I hadn’t asked in class because I had thought the questions too small. Or I’d keep a tally of the times I had spoken–the tally was very small, sometimes at 0. 

When I started grad school, I was fortunate that a few of my peers noticed this and encouraged me to share more. I had one professor, who made it a point to call my name at least once. Eventually, I figured out that once I spoke, I did have things to say. It was by thinking aloud that I could figure out what those things were. This isn’t to say that I’ve stopped being an introvert. Being an introvert is part of what makes me who I am, and I’m comfortable with me. To all of you, you have so much to say, and writing is a way to discover those things and to develop the ideas that you have.

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Finally, I want to share that because something feels impossible, it does not make it impossible. A college education, for me, has been almost impossible. I come from humble beginnings. My mother is a janitor. She is working during the pandemic. I have few luxuries in life. I started undergrad in 2011 and spent many years trying to graduate. I attended 3 colleges, and the semester I was set to graduate, I got in a car accident. I was ok, but my car was not. A few friends rose to the challenge and volunteered to drive me to class. I graduated in May 2017. I became the first in my family with a college degree. The diploma itself is not important; instead, it is what that diploma represents: my journey and struggle. 

After graduation, I spent a few unemployed months, until I accepted a handful of temporary jobs. To name a few, I was once a data clerk in Reston, VA. I was once a communications consultant in Landover, MD. For some time, I told myself I didn’t want to pursue poetry or an MFA degree, which in all honesty, doesn’t make money. It took me time before I realized that I loved poetry too much, and no one could take that away from me but me. 

So against the many odds, those of being an immigrant and a person of color, I applied to grad school. And I have found challenges, but above all, I’ve seen many of my dreams come true. 

You have been incredible and kind students. You’ve endured my jokes. You’ve shown patience those times my tongue tripped over English and the numerous times my eyes wandered the room, as I searched for English words.

I’m so grateful to you. You are the first class, and I hope the last, I teach online during a pandemic. The first half of the semester, waking up at 5 am for a 2 hr commute, wouldn’t have been worthwhile if I didn’t know that I had a room full of thinkers and artists at the other end. When we return to campus, please visit my office and remember to reach out! I would love to support you in whatever way you think is a fit for me, and this offer does not expire. 

May 12, 2020

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