Keynote speaker Maria Cardona have a clear message for the UC Merced graduating class of 2018 - “Be the medicine. America needs you.”
Cardona, who is regarded as one of the nation’s top 100 most influential Latinos, spoke in English and Spanish to graduating students, faculty, friends and families, during the university’s commencement ceremony Saturday morning on how important was that event not just for them but for the country.
As diverse as UC Merced is, Cardona said “it represents what this country is becoming.”
“So why do I say this an important day for our country? Because our country needs you - all of you - now more than ever. You, America’s leaders, and American in every way – are graduating at a time when our country, our politics and our civil discourse is at a cross roads,” said Cardona, who is well known for her work as a political commentator. “Our fissures and our division, if left unattended to, will make the country sick and weak. But you – you are medicine. You are the cure.”
“You demonstrate exactly what makes this country so great,” said Cardona, who is a native from Colombia and lives in Washington, D.C. “Your journey to get to today is the quintessential American journey. Every American came to these shores looking for hope, for opportunity, for a better life and a better future for themselves and their children.”
Since UC Merced is one of the school campuses with the highest number of undocumented students among all the school in the UC system, Cardona spoke about the importance of immigrants in this country.
“Every American is a descendent of immigrants whose courage and drive and love for their family, drove them to leave their homeland, to leave everything they knew, to go forth to a foreign land whose welcoming motto is “Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses yearning to be free,” said Cardona, as she also shared her parents’ immigration story from their home in Bogota, Colombia when she was only 2 years old, with nothing in their pockets.
Cardona said her parents “made a life for themselves, and gave us the opportunities that would never have been available to us in Colombia.”
“You are the medicine mis amigos. You are the medicine because you live through the symptoms of what is making this country ill,” said Cardona, who is currently a CNN and CNN en Español political contributor. “It is precisely in this time, in the face of such divisiveness, that each one of us must reach deep inside for your best selves, and be willing to fight for that inclusion and for that recognition.”
“So how do we do that? I think it is simpler than we think. It is easy to blame others for putting us down, but we ourselves have much more power than we know to ensure others see us as how we would like for them to see us,” said Cardona. “And a big part of that is embracing who we are, our diverse cultures, and through our own actions, to show the country and world, our incalculable value.”
Cardona shared how language and culture played a key part on who she was a child and who she became professionally.
“After wanting to “fit in” I became extremely proud of what set me apart – my Colombian heritage and how my parents taught me and my three brothers to view the world we had moved to,” she said, adding that her parents also taught her to be inclusive and share their culture with others.
“That is what my parents instilled in us growing up. Love of our culture, a fierce commitment to our language, and to be inclusive and invite people into our lives – even when we are looked upon with skepticism,” said Cardona, who serves on the board of directors of numerous organizations. “But that is where it is up to us to be different. It is up to us to choose a different path. It is up to you, our young American leaders, to be the medicine to cure what ails us.”
Cardona said it is important to “fight for yourself, to speak up when others won’t and to be the voice for those who have none,” something that she has tried to do all her adult life and why she got involved in politics.
She told graduating students that what makes them different and sets them apart, also give them their edge, their power and to embrace it.
After sharing the most difficult day in her professional life thus far, where in the midst of unimaginable pain and sadness Cardona step up to the plate, she told graduating students “that is our obligation amigos.”
“That is what you have been preparing for. To step up to the plate, with grace and aplomb, with all the preparation and training needed, and with faith – to answer the call of duty – and opportunity. To be the medicine this country needs right now,” she said. “This great challenge presented to me early on in my professional career, is when I really began to see the power that I possessed by embracing all of who I was and not being afraid to step up.”
“What has become crystal clear to me is that all of you here today, no matter your background, ARE America. In fact, that is more and more true every single day,” Cardona said. “But it is our obligation not to play into fear of the "different." It is our obligation not to perpetuate it, but to blunt it. It is our obligation to show there is another way.” “To quote the former First Lady Michelle Obama, ‘when they go low, we go high.’ That means that when others refuse to uplift the country and instead denigrate it, we will be there to show a different path,” Cardona added. “When others choose to divide the American people, pitting communities against communities, we will show the way towards unity, lifting each other up and the country in the process.”
“That is why today is a great day for the country. Because you are the medicine,” Cardona told the graduates. “Every single person graduating here today is poised with a distinct advantage – your education, your background, your heritage, and your commitment to succeed. You and your families have already contributed vastly to our community and our country.”
“ the power within you. Know that you are key to making yourself the architect of your own future. Know that you can make a difference,” Cardona said. “You can run for city councils, but you can also run companies, corporations and one day you can even run this great country.”
According to UC Merced chancellor Dorothy Leland, this year the university is conferring 54 doctoral degrees, the highest number to date.
Our young campus is still growing — as we can all see — and so are all of you. Some of you are moving on to graduate school, some will be beginning your careers, and some will enjoy a period of personal growth as you find your way toward a bright future,” Leland said. “Whatever your path, I hope you embrace the spirit of lifelong learning that is embedded in the fabric of the University of California.”