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Liberal Studies Grad, Student Commencement Speaker: We ‘Came Together as a Community’

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It is my honor and privilege to be addressing the graduates of both Classes of 2020 and 2021. When I was invited to give this speech, the robot part of my brain took over, and I decided to approach it like my last final. As per my routine, I drank four espresso shots, locked myself away and used one search on the Pollak Library website for an article titled “How to Give a Speech 101.” I was met with the dreaded “There were no results found”.

So, when that didn’t work out, I used the greatest resource available to students: Quizlet! Just kidding, I went to Google. I listened to the best commencement speeches and read about what to say during this speech. Then, I opened up a Word document and made sure it was Times New Roman, 12-point font, double spaced and stared at my laptop screen.

During my research, all of these commencement speeches were so motivational and inspirational. Me being me, I wanted to write the best speech ever, one that would motivate and inspire all of you.

But the events of the past year have left me physically, emotionally and mentally drained of ideas on how I can spark motivation within you, when I have barely any to give myself.

So I just stared at my Word document. Moments before I was going to switch over to Netflix, my 8-year-old sister Tia walked into my room. She had in her hand dinner and a water bottle because robot Tonya sucks at self care.

Tia had taken up the responsibility of making sure I eat so I don’t go to bed hungry. This is when I knew what to say. My sister didn’t motivate me or inspire me in the traditional sense. Instead, her thoughtful gesture made me realize that I’m not alone.

The past year and a half, we have experienced more than some have in their entire lifetime:

We had murder hornets that mysteriously disappeared.

California was on fire for what seemed like half a year.

A global pandemic, the likes of which we have not seen in almost a century.

We witnessed historical, political and social events.

Many of us felt the loss of a loved one,

But we have endured these events together.

We stepped foot on campus for the last time together.

We logged into Zoom for the first time together.

We got kicked out of Zoom due to an unstable internet connection together.

We hit that “submit” button on TITANium at 11:59 p.m. for the last time together.

We are walking across the stage or our living room together.

When I was a student panelist for Tuffy’s Graduation Scholars, I had to answer the question: “What makes a Titan Scholar?”

In that moment, robot Tonya kicked in and said something along the lines of “It Takes a Titan” and “Titans Reach Higher.” I was about to say “choose 15 units” but quickly remembered that banner doesn’t apply in this current situation.

After the panel, I actually looked up the exact definition of “scholar.” According to the definition from Oxford Languages, a scholar is “a specialist in a particular branch of study, especially the humanities.”

Ergo, a Titan Scholar is every College of Humanities and Social Sciences student. While I arrived at this conclusion in an unorthodox manner, HSS students truly are the definition of “It Takes a Titan.”

“It Takes a Titan” is the motto for CSUF’s first philanthropic campaign. It hopes to enhance academic innovation, empower students, transform campus structures and enrich the community.

That is exactly what we, the students of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, did.

While being lonely, isolated and trapped within that tiny Zoom tile, HSS students came together as a community. We swapped hanging out in the Titan Student Union for breakout rooms on Zoom. Clubs within the college hosted social events. Abled Advocators had a friend’s giveaway where they played virtual games, Asociación de Alumnos y Ex-alumnos de Español had a competition to see who could come up with the best meme and Philosophy Club hosted a trivia night.

HSS organizations held events for professional growth. We had a LinkedIn and financial literacy workshop, hosted a graduate student panel and the Psychology Association of Graduate Students of Color and Allies held six different thesis writing workshops, all of which helped students further their professional and academic careers.

The murder of George Floyd demanded action and we took it. HSS students did not shy away from bringing awareness and facilitating discussions. Abled Advocators had an open mic night to appreciate Black art with spoken word. The History Student Association had an event dedicated to Black historical figures and our college hosted three different interdisciplinary conversations on anti-Blackness.

With the recent rise of Asian hate crimes, we had an “Understanding Asian American Experiences Through History” event hosted by Phi Alpha Theta. Our HSS clubs had workshops dedicated to disability, pronouns and inclusivity awareness. Rebound Scholars had John Bunn come to speak on the failures of our justice system. HSS students broke societal beauty norms with our guest speaker Virgie Tovar.

We did all of these things together as a community. With the absence of motivation and inspiration, we relied on each other.

Late night FaceTimes or Zooms, Netflix parties and family members feeding us. This is what got us through the past three semesters.

Whether you are watching this on a phone, tablet or projecting it on a TV, I ask the Classes of 2020 and 2021 to please stand. I congratulate and applaud you. Despite the turmoil of the past few months and our individual struggles, we are all standing and graduating together.

Speech by Vaidehi “Tonya” Somesh, who earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies and a double minor in economics and sociology

Somesh is the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Class of 2021 student speaker. She is also the college’s Inter-Club Council chair. Somesh is graduating with high honors and aspires to be a human rights lawyer. She will be working toward her law degree after graduation.

Kendra Morales