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.




What is your purpose in life?

Growing up, children and teens are often asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” As I continued to think about this question throughout my teen years and into college, I realized this question has so much more to do with status than with children choosing a career path. This question is embedded in status, hierarchy, class, race, and gender roles… A mere “What do you want to be” is a simple gesture rooted in judgment. It is through this question and through this process that parents criticize other children and begin to emphasize performance, status, and elitism. Parents attempt to sway children and teens into certain careers and fields, typically the ones that make more money. And rightfully, we want our children and teens to succeed. But how are we measuring success?

We want each and every generation to be brighter, to learn more, to better understand and obtain what their parents did not have. But with what ideals? Or better yet whom’s ideals? As a student and researcher, I have constantly struggled with the judgments, ideas, and misconceptions of adults and even peers on my “career choice.” From the questions on how many years of school, to what do you do, I have learned to respond in a certain way that leaves me with less questions and more respect. But on the same note, why do I need to answer to people anyway and why does it seem to bother people?

As I continue to reflect, I realize that it isn’t so much about my goal of being a professor, but my perspective on school, academia, and my future. I have never seen my career goal as a job. I have never tried to speak on what my goals are in a way where what I do is objectified and classified as a certain occupation. Because, well, it is so much more than that. It is my purpose. We all try to seek happiness. The question millennials are often faced with is, How do I find happiness? But we’re asking the wrong questions. We should be asking: what are you going to do to find happiness within yourself? Similarly, we shouldn’t ask our children and teens what they want to be when they grow up, but what their purpose will be in this life, in this world. I mention happiness because it is closely tied to purpose. When I discovered my purpose, I felt a genuine happiness in my body. But it wasn’t easy getting there. I had to break down and unlearn thoughts, classifications, ideals, and social rules that barred me from seeing my own success and worth that I now have begun to develop. My craft, research, is difficult. At times, I feel like giving up. But because I know my purpose in life: To help students of color create their own research, engage with academia, and give people of color a voice by any means possible, I know I can succeed. My purpose involves a lot of time, effort, and belief, but the biggest barrier I had to overcome was my own mind… The way my mind conceptualized success, purpose, careers, money, and growth at a young age. When I began challenging these ideals instilled to me throughout school, via institutions, I realized that I could do anything.

The youth of our generation need to learn this while they are still young. Don’t ask them what they want to be, ask them what their purpose will be. Let their purpose, their mind, freely guide them to success. Don’t ask them a question that is secretly loaded with plaguing notions of elitism, money, and status. People who have purpose and know their purpose, will find their path. With hard work, they will find a career and craft that they will love and prosper through. It’s time for us to re-envision careers, and begin to value purpose.

Welcome to Arizona




Arizona is a strange place. Coming from Los Angeles, I am used to exploring. The cultural jungle of the West has instilled in me a love for exploration. Whether its food, culture, or entertainment, L.A will forever have an explorer searching. I am now celebrating my one year anniversary as an Arizona resident. In reflecting on my time here, I’ve decided to share a few thoughts on Arizona. Something Arizona has helped me develop is a strong appreciation for nature. Growing up, I played outside, spent a lot of time at the park, and was involved in several outdoor sports. But as I grew older and as my interests developed, I leaned towards academia, which meant more time indoors. Entering college, I was always busy. Work –> class –> study –> eat –> meetings –> tests –> more work… The cycle never ended. My senior year of college, I told myself I needed to appreciate every last moment I could at USC. Taking long routes back to my apartment, I noticed the beauty of life: simplicity. I watched leaves fall off of my favorite trees, I paused to observe the beautiful planted flowers on campus, and walked around appreciating all the squirrels protruding campus. The mere thought of observing flowers, trees, and squirrels seems ridiculous, but how many times do you actually stop and stay in the present moment? How often do we practice mindfulness, being in the present moment? Rarely. How often do we walk around, headphones in our ears, and have 10000 thoughts running on our minds? All the time…

Pause. Breathe. Take a look at all the beauty that surrounds you.  In these moments, I began to realize how nature is so important, and how nature can bring a whole sense of meaning to my life. What is nature to me? The trees, the birds, animals, flowers, air… Everything that is essential to our existence and part of our Earth that we so often take for granted… I learned to appreciate nature in small doses at USC. When I moved to Arizona, I truly began to realize how beautiful and important nature is.

Arizona is a strange place. I saw cacti, dry landscape, mountains, etc. I saw a different type of beauty in nature, a simple, calmness to the landscape of Arizona’s backyard that I had never seen before. Plants were different. Trees were different. Most of the recreational activities in the area involve the outdoors. Arizona has the Gran Canyon, Sedona, Creeks, Lakes, etc. Lightning/Thunder storms are some of the most beautiful scenes I have ever seen. I couldn’t possible be scared of a storm because the horizon is graced with rays of lightning and a setting sun that can’t be seen in Los Angeles. There is so much to appreciate and so much to admire. It may not be Los Angeles, but it is one of the Earth’s natural beauties. It may not have  a booming cultural or foodie seeking appeal, but the appeal of nature is all it needs.

Arizona is a strange place, but it’s definitely grown on me. Above is a series of shots of a succulent plant I bought at Lowes. I love these small plants, and they hardly require any watering. It’s a small piece of Arizona ❤