To the Class of 2020: We See You
Jogging around my neighborhood in Washington, D.C., I see the signs hung in windows and planted proudly in people’s front yards. I see the colorful messages on passing cars, and the amazing gestures of encouragement from leaders and celebrities all over social media.
Throughout the country, people are coming together in creative ways to honor this year’s high-school and college graduates: drive-in ceremonies hosted in parking lots; parades of cars with people honking their support while a beloved grad watches from the lawn or sidewalk.
I’m sure these graduates appreciate the gestures. But it’s not the same. The Class of 2020 deserves all the pomp and circumstance that past graduates have enjoyed: to hear their name called while their family cheers from the crowd; to walk across that stage and receive their diploma; to celebrate with friends and family. Instead, they’re having to settle for sitting in a car, opening their diploma in an envelope, and hopping on yet another Zoom call.
For the millions of Hispanic students who’ve had their graduations curtailed, the sense of disappointment comes with an added weight. That’s because, for us, graduating from high school or college isn’t a given. And while Hispanic graduation rates have increased significantly, some significant obstacles remain: economic hardship; a persistent technology gap; hurdles to accessing financial assistance—just to name a few.
Given everything that today’s Hispanic students must overcome, earning that diploma means more than it might to students of other socioeconomic backgrounds. It’s a chance to gain a sturdier foothold in the American Dream. To have that celebration diminished, to see years of hard work get lost in the chaos of everything that’s going on in the world: It’s heartbreaking.
But to all SHPE Student Members —to all the students unable to enjoy the fruits of their hard work—I want to say this: The SHPE Familia sees you. We see your talent, your work ethic, and your incredible potential. We see the sacrifices you’ve made and the challenges you’ve endured. We see how proud your families are, how badly they wish they could watch you on the stage. We see who you are, and we see what you can become.
When I think of you, I think of a phoenix being forged in fire—a fire that you didn’t start but are forced to endure anyway. In the end, you will be the phoenix that rises from the ashes, made stronger by the flames around you. As you spread your wings and take flight, know that the whole world will see you, too.
SHPE is here to help you spread your wings. If you’re a high-school grad eager to pursue a STEM education, consider applying for one of our scholarships. If you just graduated from college and are looking to start your career, check out one of our online professional development programs. Better yet, join us for SHPE’s first-ever virtual National Convention, where over the past few years hundreds of Hispanics have walked away with cool internships and amazing jobs.
Even if you’re a few years away from completing your education, SHPE has programs and resources to help you lay the foundation for what comes next. Our monthly latinXfactor™ web series, featuring talks from leaders at top STEM organizations, is a great way to hone your resume-writing, networking and interviewing skills. Through MentorSHPE, we’ll pair you with a professional mentor who can challenge you to reach your full potential.
Wherever your postgraduation flight takes you, know this: You’re not flying alone. Between the high-school and college grads who’ve had their lives put on hold and the countless STEM professionals who aren’t sure what the coming weeks and months will bring, in their own unique ways, millions of people will have to “graduate” from this unprecedented crisis—to take what they’ve learned and use it to grow. To evolve. To meet the challenges and opportunities ahead.
Remember: We’re all in this together. Like so many times in our collective history, we didn’t choose these circumstances. But we *can* choose how we respond to them. Either we let the fire consume us, or we use the flames to forge us into something better, stronger, and more resilient.
If I know anything about our young Hispanics, I know which course most will take. I know it won’t be long before we see a million phoenixes taking to the skies. When they do, the strength and resilience they’ve built will assure that the only question before them won’t be how long they can stay in the air, but how high they can soar.
Raquel Tamez, SHPE CEO