In June, Northwestern graduate Osbeyda Navarette delivered the keynote speech at the Hancock College Prep commencement ceremony. As the first Hancock alumna to earn a degree from this highly selective college, this first-generation college student gave Chicago Public Schools graduates insight into world outside their teen experience.
What I appreciated most about this speech was the honesty.
Too often at graduation ceremonies, speakers idealize the future. But this speech, Navarette spoke her truth about what it feels like to be different, to feel alone, to want to change course when she doubted in her ability to pursue a dream.
“There’s so much advice I can give you, but I think it honestly narrows down to two things that were extremely important to my growth as person during college: to let yourself try and to not be afraid to seek help,” Osbeyda Navarette told the graduates.
Listen to this speech or read it below.
I still remember the bittersweet feeling many of you are feeling right now. That mixture of excitement for the new phase in life you’re about to enter, as well as that sadness that comes along with saying goodbyes. When I was a senior at John Hancock 5 years ago, I remember feeling that I was ready to take on the world. I was valedictorian, had been given a full ride to Northwestern University and thought I knew what I wanted to do as a career. I had a plan, I knew what my next steps would be and I was ready to be independent, or so I thought.
As soon as I started school at Northwestern, that feeling of accomplishment quickly changed to one of confusion and self-doubt. It didn’t take long for me to feel like I didn’t belong there, both academically and socially. While I knew it was going to be hard for me at first to get to know others since I’m usually very shy, I didn’t realize the extent of how hard it would be. I felt uncomfortable being in many of the spaces around campus and it had a lot to do with my identity as a minority.
Growing up, I’ve always lived in Latino neighborhoods and the schools that I attended were also predominantly Latino. So while I knew that as a Latina, I was a minority, I didn’t really feel like a minority until I went to Northwestern.
I remember once that I was in class and that there were only 2 people of color in a class of 30 or so. While others were busy having conversations, that other person and I sat by ourselves in two different corners of the room. I felt so out of place that speaking up in class wasn’t even an option for me.
I found myself not wanting to go to any of the social events at my dorm and just dwelling on my discomfort both in classes and outside of them.
Aside from having trouble finding a sense of belonging at Northwestern, I was also struggling academically freshman year. I was questioning everything that I was once confident about. I felt as though I was nowhere near the level of knowledge that many of my classmates seemed to have.
The first quarter at Northwestern, I had to drop two classes because there was no way I would pass them after receiving my midterm grades. At that point I began thinking that maybe Northwestern wasn’t for me, maybe I had made the wrong choice. I wasn’t sure what to do or who to go to. I would call my mom every night just to vent about everything and go back home almost every weekend because I couldn’t stand being on campus any more than I had to. I found myself continually reaching out to my family because they were the only support system I had, or that I thought I had at the time. They were the only ones that I found comfort being around; however, that made it so much harder to find my place within Northwestern because I wouldn’t give anything a chance.
I kept thinking, it’s okay, the weekend is almost here and then I can go home. I didn’t tell anyone on campus how much I was struggling, but instead kept quiet and tried to figure things out on my own. I didn’t let myself get out of my comfort zone because I thought I was better off sticking to who I knew. At that point, I didn’t realize how much I was missing out on by not asking for help.
By the end of sophomore year in college, I had established a routine that seemed to work for me. I was busy with school but I was still not happy. I started thinking that maybe this was going to be college for me, that I just had to get through it.
Then, I’m not sure what was it that pushed me to step out of my comfort zone and go to an informational session for a multicultural sorority on campus, but to this day I’m thankful I made that decision. I found individuals who had similar interests as mine but most of all, I found people I felt comfortable with, people who I could relate to.
This point was the very first time I realized I wasn’t the only one struggling, that this wasn’t something I had to deal with on my own. I can’t tell you how important it was for me to come to this realization.
I remember telling them about how hard it had been for me during my first two years at Northwestern and they all showed me how much they genuinely understood me. I began asking them about who they would go to for help or what study place they preferred on campus, and suddenly a whole new world opened up to me—one that had been hidden because of my unwillingness to try and get out of my comfort zone. There were so many resources on campus that I was not aware of but used to the full extent once I found out about them.
The difference of my experience at Northwestern when I began versus when I took the initiative to try new things, was like night and day. I quickly became more involved on campus, started speaking up more and began truly living my college years. I’m not going to tell you that things instantly got better and everything was rainbows and sunshine afterwards, because I would be lying. It took some work to build up that confidence in myself that I used to have in high school.
But slowly I began believing in myself once again and accepted that I deserved to be where I am, that I have worked hard for this and that I was going to succeed regardless. Of course, there was and will continue to be bumps down the road, but I’m glad that there’s one thing that I will work on maintaining—the confidence in myself.
There’s so much advice I can give you, but I think it honestly narrows down to two things that were extremely important to my growth as person during college: to let yourself try and to not be afraid to seek help. You are not alone, no matter how much you think you are, there is someone out there willing to listen, willing to help.
Wherever your life is headed to next, there may be times when you’re out of your comfort zone and you may feel the need to back away or isolate yourself, don’t.
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