Chicago Public Schools graduate on the responsibility that comes with education

Chicago Public Schools graduate on the responsibility that comes with education
Chicago Public Schools student Lisseth Perez speaking at the Hancock College Prep graduation June 8, 2015

My proudest moments as a teacher are when I can sit back and watch my students use their own words to express themselves.  Lisseth Perez delivered the closing speech at Monday night's Hancock College Prep commencement ceremony.  Inspired by the missing 43 students of Ayotzinapa, Lisseth moved many in the audience to tears and had to pause a few times as the audience erupted with applause.

This evening, teachers, administrators, parents, and all of our supporters are sitting among us to celebrate the victory of Hancock’s class of 2015.  Throughout these four years, we have seen each other grow from children to adults. Four years ago,  we believed the sky was the limit. Tonight, we leave knowing there’s more beyond the sky because our experiences at Hancock have lead us become educated, perceptive individuals.

I know that each and every one of us has become a wiser individual who has learned to question everything. We leave high school prepared to face reality because at this very moment, we are holding our diploma tightly with sweaty hands and a mix of emotions of excitement and nervousness.

Four years ago, we entered high school with our sweaty hands tightly gripping on our book bag straps and with the same a range of mix emotions.

This evening, we shook the hands with the wonderful staff of Hancock, as they handed us our diplomas.

Tonight, we raised the graduation rate.  Some of us have become the first in our families to come home with a diploma. Most importantly, we have completed a step to commence our future, whether it is to continue our education, work, or pursue other paths.

Whatever we decide to do, we will come across some barriers. Maybe some barriers that we will easily move through or perhaps some stronger barriers similarly to the 43 students that will make our purpose harder but will make us more passionate. We must learn to surpass the obstacles we come across to continue to excel with our goals because any individual’s achievement is an achievement for our community, for our society.  When we succeed, we become a benefit for others.

The disappearance of 43 students exposed the terror some leaders have of educated people. Some fear us getting educated and becoming more discerning citizens because they are well aware that education is one of the keys to making a difference in one’s world. Therefore, just like the 43 students exposed education as a powerful tool to move forward, together we should reveal our powers and potential  to make a difference because that difference depends on us.

Tonight, I will add a little piece to the difference we will continue to create. I’ll share a part of me that not even some of my closest friends may know. I was born in Michoacan, Mexico. I was brought to United States when I was 8 months old. My first steps where on American ground. If my parents had come 9 months earlier, I would have been a U.S. citizen.  But I am undocumented.  I became a DREAMer in 2012. Sadly, I spoke to my counselors too late about my situation because I was embarrassed.

Due to this, I was unable to get all the resources I could’ve gotten to make college more accessible for me. Most students like myself are afraid of speaking out about the biggest part of our identity--a part of us that makes us feel frail and vulnerable. We fear that we will be judged and looked down upon. We fear that we won’t have the opportunity or resources to achieve success.

However, we also fail to realize that it wasn’t our fault. We were brought to the United States for the American dream and we choose to stay to pursue it. Therefore, students like me must not be afraid to reveal our status to encourage other students to do so, so they can feel comfortable and proud of who they are.

Early in this school year, the Chicago Sun-Times referred to us as “poor” What does that mean?  It means that we come from a home with a lack of money to support necessities and comfort. The word “poor” has been tossed around to describe us as if it were our only quality, to create pity toward us, pity we do not need.

Truthfully, a majority of us are not rich. Many of our families have even hit rock bottom yet we still stood on this stage in this elegant theater and received our diplomas. We deserve to be here.

Our hardships became and will continue to be part of our motivation to work hard in whatever we choose to do because we learned to earn things rather than to receive them.

So what did our hardships reveal? We have courage and determination. We grew the ability to do whatever frightened us as our hands began to synchronize to do whatever we wanted to do.  Many of us may not realize that we are not only representing ourselves but our family and supporters as well.

Tonight, take a look at your loved one's hands after you receive your hugs. Those hugs carry the legacy of people who worked with their hands. They carry the legacy of callused hands with numerous blisters.  We are  the legacy of the people with hardworking hands who provided all the support they believed they could.

Just like our supporters’ and guardians’ hands, we used our hands to write essays, to create art, to play a sport, to gain someone’s attention and to ask questions.  With our hands, we shook the hands of employers and college admission counselors.

This evening, the class of 2015 holds in our hands a diploma cover to remind us of pride and humility to keep us grounded close to our roots and to remind us of the weight we must carry.

As we leave this theater, our hands will carry the responsibility of doing great things to create a better future for our people.

Gracias.

Lisseth Perez will attend Arrupe College of Loyola University Chicago in the fall and major in communications.

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