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Prominent Latino Commencement Speakers Offer Wisdom to College Grads

by Kelly Carrion /
Housing Secretary Julian Castro was the commencement keynote speaker at California State University-Fullerton on May 17, 2015.CSU-Fullerton

During the last few weeks thousands of college graduates around the country heard inspirational commencement speeches as they prepared to embark on their new lives.

We rounded some words of wisdom from prominent Latinos in government, civil rights and the arts who shared their own life stories and journeys and offered students guidance and inspiration for their post-college years.

Here are a few:

 Lin-Manuel Miranda, who received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from his alma mater, Wesleyan University, deliverered its Commencement address on May 24, 2015. Rick Ciaburri Studio

Lin-Manuel Miranda, composer, actor, rapper and lyricist and creator of Broadway’s award-winning “In the Heights” and the new highly acclaimed musical “Hamilton,” spoke at his alma mater Wesleyan University' at their 183rd commencement, where he received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.

“In reality, you’re always going to be rushing and waiting at the same time. You will pack your things to leave tomorrow while savoring every moment of today. You’ll chase down your friends to say goodbye, but know that the ones who matter the most will be in your life for the rest of your life. You picture where you’ll be in five years, but the world might change around you while you’re buying a Bob Dylan album. You take out a second mortgage and work seven days a week so four years later, you can cheer the loudest when they call your child’s name at graduation. You hold the present in your hand as tight as you can, while your other hand reaches out for more.”

Richard Blanco, award-winning author, poet and the nation’s fifth and youngest Presidential inaugural poet, was the speaker at the 135th University of South Maine commencement.

“An education isn’t about learning the right answers, it’s about learning how to ask questions and keep asking them the rest of your life...Never stop loving what you do and doing it with love, doing it with passion and compassion, for in the grand scheme of things, knowledge is not meant for selfish gain, it is meant in large part to create a more just, equitable and loving world, a world in which all of us can thrive and find fulfillment together."

Rita Moreno, Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony award-winning actress and singer, was the speaker at Northeastern Illinois University commencement.

“It took me just two minutes to get a doctorate, and most of you at least four years. Lesson number one, life is not fair,” she joked. “Surround yourself with those who love and support you, who believe in you. Don’t ever let anyone interfere with your dream or your focus or your vision. It belongs to you,” Moreno added.

Julián Castro, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, was the speaker at the California State University, Fullerton commencement.

“Whether it’s teaching in a classroom or starting your own business, or serving in the public sector, one of the most important things you can do in the years to come is to be prepared. At the end of the day, that is what today is all about. The last four years was about preparing yourselves to succeed in the working world, in business, and perhaps in public service. The thing is, we need you to succeed in our nation more than we ever have.”

Gaby Pacheco, immigrants rights leader, DREAMer and co-director of The Bridge Project, was the speaker at The New School’s 79th commencement.

“We all have a choice by what people will know us by and what we are going to do for ourselves, our families and community...We all have a choice of what our legacies will be. And while the country’s laws only gave me the choice to live in the shadows, keep my head down, and be scared, I chose to stand up for my and other peoples’ dreams. And it was in a college institution, Miami Dade College, where I learned to open my wings and fly fearlessly through my life.”

 Immigrant rights leader Gaby Pacheco delivered the keynote address at the The New School's 79th Commencement exercises on May 21, 2015 in New York City. The New School

Julia Alvarez, author of novels including “How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents” and poet and essayist,was the commencement speaker at her alma mater, Middlebury College.

"Life, not college, is the vale of soul-making, and the way to make a soul is by giving yourself to what you love...As you leave here you are going to feel pressure to get a good job, get your career going, be a change maker, but I am telling you first things first. Whatever you do let it be something that at the end of the day you can say: 'I do this because I have a soul.' Every choice ask yourself: is this going to be a soul making or a soul-selling choice? Don't settle for less. That is what a life is for."

 Writer Julia Alvarez delivered the commencement address at Middlebury College.

Juliet Garcia, the first Latina to lead a U.S. college or university, she was President of the University of Texas at Brownsville for 22 years and was named one of the country's 10 Best College Presidents, was a speaker at 137th Smith College commencement.

“Once awakened, the spirit never returns to its original dimensions...Today you must seek that what gives you strength. And once you’ve discovered it, you must run toward it. While today you may only have a hint as to what gives you strength, when you soon discover it, you must pursue it."

She also addressed parents in Spanish:

"Y para los padres de los graduados: es un gran honor que nos acompañen en este día tan especial...Estamos aquí para celebrar también lo que han hecho ustedes, los padres, los esposos y esposas, hijos e hijas, al prestarle su apoyo. Porque sin ustedes, los reconocimientos del dia de hoy no habrian sido posibles."

“And for the parents of the graduates, it is a great honor that you accompany us on this special day..We are here to celebrate also what you - parents, spouses and children - have done by lending them your support. Because without you, today's recognitions would not have been possible."

 Jose Antonio Vargas received a Doctor of Law honorary degree from Colby College on May 24, 2015.

Jose Antonio Vargas, journalist and immigration activist who is of Filipino descent, was the recipient of a Doctor of Law Honorary Degree from Colby College.

“I personally dedicate this honor to undocumented students across the country, especially to undocumented college students who live in states that do not offer tuition equity. You are more than the school you attend. You should never, ever give up on yourself."

"And you gotta love America: I don't have a green card--at least not yet--but I'm getting an honorary doctorate,” he said in a Facebook post.

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