“And I look at you today and I look at the American flag presiding over all the other flags and symbols honored at this ceremony and I am reassured that, through our concerted efforts, this country will continue to hold the promise that hard and honest work matters more than the color of your skin, the god you worship, the person you love, or the sound of your accent. America is the place where someone like me, born somewhere else, can also call home.”
UW-Green Bay Professor Cristina Ortiz shared the following “Reflections on Opportunity” with the Fall Class of 2016 during commencement ceremonies Saturday, December 17, 2016:
“Chancellor Miller, distinguished guests, faculty, proud parents, grandparents, family and friends… members of the class of 2016…CONGRATULATIONS!
What a tremendous honor it is to be here today and to have been asked to be your commencement speaker. Who would have thought?! Certainly not me if I think back to almost thirty years ago when I opened the letter of acceptance to a graduate school in the United States. At that time I was probably able to understand half of what that letter said. I am sure it asked for the standard school records, examination scores, embassy appointment … but to me that piece of paper said only one thing. What I saw written clearly in front of me was: OPPORTUNITY. Like you today, I was about to start a new journey, butterflies in my stomach, I was filled with both uncertainty and excitement. But that word, OPPORTUNITY, contained a promise that spoke of new possibilities, and that gave me the courage to say good bye to the world I knew in order to start a new life in a new land.
When I first arrived to the United States my knowledge about this country was limited. Of course I had studied the history, the art, the great ideas and works of literature, but I had not met many Americans in person nor had I ever set foot in this part of the world before. So, in those initial days in the States, everything and everyone looked exotic, different and interesting. During my first day in this country I was surprised to see that complete strangers would greet me in the street as if they had known me for a long time. “How are you today?” they asked very friendly. “But… I was not here yesterday!” I thought very surprised. Strangers kindly greeting other strangers was something that I had only seen before in tv shows like Sesame Street.
While I did not know anyone when I first arrived, by the time I graduated and moved to Wisconsin I left many great friends in Ohio. I met wonderful people, including my husband, David, who joined me later in Green Bay. So it was very hard for me to say good bye again, but OPPORTUNITY appeared in the form of an invitation to be part of this fine institution and its extraordinary faculty. So, here in Green Bay is where both my children, Lucas and Lucia, were born and Green Bay is now the place that I call home. Today bubbler and booyah are part of my English vocabulary and yes, I am also worried about the Packers this season.
During this journey I have learned that OPPORTUNITY is a small part of being lucky and a large part about making choices and having the strength to leave behind comfort and familiarity to embrace the unknown. But also OPPORTUNITY is something we owe to those who preceded us, those who fought hard in the past to create the conditions in which we are able to flourish in the present. I, personally, know that I am very grateful to all the strong women in my life: first and foremost, my mother, but also my teachers, mentors, colleagues and friends, and all the bold and talented women who over the years have broken barriers and molds and who have shown me by example and with their perseverance that if there is a will there must be a way.
But OPPORTUNITY is also about the responsibility we have towards others, because we owe it to those who come after us to create the conditions where they also feel that their dreams and aspirations one day can be achieved.
We have just finished a long and very divisive presidential campaign. Regardless of what candidate you supported, this campaign has left behind bruises, scars, and different groups of people feeling palpably anxious. But there are also lessons to be learned from what we have gone through. For one, we must pause and think what meaning OPPORTUNITY will have in the new political life that we are inaugurating.
For many of us the days ahead are daunting. But I look at you, class of 2016, and I am optimistic. Because at a moment where more women than ever are graduating from college, obtaining doctoral degrees, pursuing multiple careers and professional paths … glass ceilings have their days counted, even the “highest and hardest.”
And I look at you today and I look at the American flag presiding over all the other flags and symbols honored at this ceremony and I am reassured that, through our concerted efforts, this country will continue to hold the promise that hard and honest work matters more than the color of your skin, the god you worship, the person you love, or the sound of your accent. America is the place where someone like me, born somewhere else, can also call home.
There are no better times for the purposeful and unambiguous affirmation of these values; there are not better times either to embrace idealism and, emulating Don Quixote’s vision, believe that is only in our power to change the world and make it better.
Graduates, I have seen you in class, many of you the first in your family ever to attend college. I have witnessed your values and work ethic, your commitment to success, your ability to juggle classes and work, while in some cases taking care of family responsibilities and still finding the time to volunteer in our community or to be campus leaders or both. During these years, you have demonstrated the capacity to be extraordinary individuals. And looking at you I remain confident that in the journey that begins today, you will continue affirming these values, demonstrating the same love of knowledge and reason, leadership, empathy and compassion as the best instruments to stay engaged and stand by a meaning of OPPORTUNITY defined by nothing more than our individual aspirations and our willingness to work hard to chase after our dreams.
Class of 2016, you have shown us great, but the best is yet to come. OPPORTUNITY is waiting for you. Dream high, take care of one another, and go for it!
Congratulations on your achievements. Best luck and many blessings to all of you.”
Professor Cristina Ortiz chose the theme, “Reflections on the Meaning of Opportunity” for her remarks to graduates and guests at the event, in the 2,000-seat Cofrin Family Hall of the Weidner Center. Ortiz joined the University in 1993 and currently holds the Patricia W. Baer Professorship in Education, the highest academic award the University bestows on a faculty member. She is the author of a monograph on Jorge Luis Borges, an Argentine poet, essayist and short-story writer whose works have become classics of 20th-century world literature. Her research on contemporary Spanish and Latin American female writers has been published in top tier journals in both Spain and the United States. Her area of research focuses on issues of gender, nation and nationalism as reflected in contemporary Spanish and Latin American literatures and cinema. Ortiz has been widely recognized for her work and has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the UW-Green Bay Teaching Scholar Award. In 2003, she received a UW-System Award in recognition of outstanding contributions to the UW-System in the Advancement of Women of Color. She is a two-time UWGB Founders Association Award winner — receiving an award for Excellence in Institutional Development in 2003-2004 and an award for Excellence in Community Outreach in 2012-2013. These are among the most prestigious honors granted by the University. Her work has also been included in numerous edited collections, most recently in Víctimas del dolor y la violencia terrorista: el papel de las mujeres (Madrid: Biblioteca Nueva, 2016), Across the Straight: New Visions of Africa in Contemporary Spain (Ashgate, 2015) and several others. She is a correspondent member of the North American Academy of the Spanish Language and a special contributor to the academic journal of this organization (RANLE). Professor Ortiz was born in San Sebastián, Spain, where she completed her undergraduate studies in Philosophy and Education. She came to the United States in 1987 to further her education, and went on to obtain a Master’s Degree and a Ph.D. in Spanish and Latin American Literatures from the University of Cincinnati. She met her husband David Coury, UWGB Professor of German and Humanistic Studies, in the United States. They have two children.