24

It’s funny how graduation always seems to land on or near my birthday. This year I got to celebrate my achievements, earning a Masters of Science in Justice Studies, and also my 24th birthday.

First, I am very thankful. Thankful for my parents who continue to support my dreams and who deal with my attitude problem and my lack of emotional intelligence. I am also thankful for friends and family who show their support. I was fortunate enough to have five close friends attend my celebration festivities. From ceremonies to my party, they were all there for these special moments. It is important to acknowledge those who support us, and those who are willing to be there for us for special moments like these.

My graduation ceremony was anti-climatic. My morning jitters quickly faded away as I took my seat at the Wells Fargo arena without any of my classmates. I opted for Hispanic Convocation, foregoing the “traditional” ceremonies hosted by predominantly White administrators. I get my traditional sash, Mexican woven patterns like everyone else and feel comforted by the familiar sea of skin tones surrounding me at the staidum. I sit, listen to the speakers, and awkwardly wave at my family. I’m really just waiting to walk the stage to quickly get out of there. I’m texting my friends the whole time. Graduate students go first, so I didn’t have to wait a long time for the moment to be over. I walk up the ramp, one of the staff members checking every graduate to make sure our hair is placed just right, and made my way up the path. A girl scans my card so that the hosts can read my speech, which says nothing personal besides “Natalie Santizo, Masters of Science in Justice Studies). My family is already yelling at me for that one. But in all honesty, I’ve never enjoyed graduation ceremonies. I understand it is a symbolic experience for the years of cultivating success. This ceremony represents the two years of hard work, sacrifice, sleepless nights of finals, and all the intellectual work I developed. I know its value to working parents and immigrant parents, to see their hard work and sacrifices be acknowledged in an established institution, in a special moment where they see their child walk across the stage, and officially be an MBA, MS, MSW, etc… But at the same time, it is these institutions that hurt people of color, that create barriers for people of color…

I guess I’ve never really liked graduations for many reasons. I dislike formalities. I dislike having to prove a point in a symbolic, overly exaggerated fashion. Wearing cap and gown reminds me of another formality I must adjust to, another way I should dress, according to White patriarchy. Graduations remind me once again about segregation, about racism, about the thousands of people who did not have the opportunity to walk across the stage with me. I sometimes question my work in academia because how does one really, truly create work within a system that wasn’t build for people of color? That give less opportunity to economically disadvantaged students of color? Is it fair to claim you are a justice seeker when you work within these institutional spaces? Should our work be community driven, and socially activist rich? These thoughts are the same thoughts that pound through my mind several times a day and that keep me awake at night. These thoughts add to my questioning of institutions and the unhappiness I feel when graduation ceremonies approach.

Trying to not let my thoughts control my emotions, I decided to enjoy my party. After the ceremony I spent a couple of hours getting everything ready for my party. Champagne and pizza balloons, golden everything, small photo booth, bottles of champagne later, my party was set up and ready for all my guests. All my L.A friends were there with me during set up, so we only waited for a few people to arrive. Everyone started drinking and we waited for the pizza bar to be set up. The pizzas were HUGE! I had never seen such big slices in my life! It was great. My family ended up leaving the party a little later in the evening, which left the young group to party. We went out in Old Town and continued the celebrations, waiting for midnight so that I could officially celebrate my birthday. We ended up getting home rather early and woke up late.

Sunday rolled by and we got up to have late breakfast at Lolos, a local fried chicken spot. Almost like Roscoes, but with better decor and ambiance. We ate, went back to Willie’s apartment, and from there my family hit the road back to CA. My friends and I hung out for a couple of hours, some napped, some tanned, and then we all hopped in the car to go play soccer at the Scottsdale Community College field. We worked out, had fun, and Schmitty was exercising with everyone. We ended the night getting wine at the grocery store and ordering pizza in, falling asleep to a scary movie. Before I woke up, my friends were already gone. They took an uber to the airport.

Graduation and birthday celebrations reminded me how I am surrounded by some amazing human beings. I have a network of supportive, fun, loving, and ambitious friends who are there for me and will always be there for me 🙂 Sometimes I get caught up with the bits and pieces that life throws at me and I forget all the good I have in my life. Don’t let the negative things get to you and remember who you are, and appreciate the small memories you make with loved ones.