At this year’s School of Engineering commencement, graduating senior Zoila Estefani Jurado Quiroga (Mechanical Engineering) spoke to her fellow graduates about her experiences as a student, the importance of family and the importance of education. Here’s the text of her speech:
Good morning fellow graduates, parents, teachers, and esteemed guests who have all overcome the challenge of waking up this morning to be with us today. I would have to say this is a welcomed challenge and does not compare with the obstacles and triumphs that we all have had to overcome to be here today.
Graduation is a time of change with new challenges to face and decisions that will ultimately change our lives. Graduation is also a time of reflection, and I would like everyone to take some time now and think about why you are here, where you came from, and ask yourself what does it all mean to you? What does your story tell you, but more importantly what does it teach you?
Standing here today, I would like to share with you all my story and what I learned from it.
My name is Zoila Estefani Jurado Quiroga and I came into the United States when I was 4 with my two older sisters. My mother brought us here for a better life, she brought us here for opportunity – something she never received. She brought us here in the hope that we would receive the education she was denied in Ecuador, the education that would allow us to be the best versions of ourselves.
Even though America is known as the land of freedom, growing up in the United States felt like a prison. We had to act carefully, talk carefully, and think carefully because at any moment we could be discovered and deported. I lived my life in fear, feeling that I had no control over my life or future. The only time I felt free and secure was in school, no matter how preposterous that sounds.
Through all the late-night pillow talks, my mother shared with us her love for education and desire for knowledge. She taught us how important education was and why it was essential. She taught us that education not only provides one with the opportunity to have a higher salary or to have material luxuries; education gives one the means to achieve and the ability to appreciate life fully because it dampens stereotypes and challenges social norms. I learned at an early age that education led to more than just knowledge; education led to personal freedom.
Education brought hope, and in turn, knowledge brought empowerment. I learned from my mother that knowledge cannot be taken from you once you gain it. I learned that I had more control over my life than I had believed. And most importantly, I learned that education was the method of control. It was by my own will that I chose to study, work on projects, and read all the course material; the grade was my own, it was something I could control.
Standing here today I can clearly recall the individuals who have changed my life through these past four years at UCONN. I remember how our late-night study sessions would turn into social conversations or how we would continue tackling our homework problems together, hours past our bedtime. These individuals not only helped me grow academically, but also mentally. I will never forget our family dinners where we enjoyed each other’s company and would unwind from our chaotic lives. These family dinners held me together and kept me going. Just for one night of the week we would be able to spend time with those who we really cared for – those who cared about us just as much in return. To those individuals, I would like to say, “We may not be family by blood, but we are family by heart.” I am the person that I am today because of these individuals. And I would like to thank them today, along with the rest of my family, for always believing in me, supporting me, and caring for me.
Graduates, if you would all think back to the individuals who have inspired, help, taught, and supported you. Now, before you hurry back to your dorms and finish packing-up, take a moment to thank, hug, or kiss these individuals. Let them know how grateful you are to have them in your life. Thank your parents, spouse, children, grandparents, teachers and friends for helping you become a better version of yourself. And most importantly, let them know that today is not just a celebration of your success, but theirs as well.
On a final note, I would like to repeat that education is the greatest investment that anyone can make. The great Albert Einstein once said, “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” Congratulations, graduates, for making it pass this far in your journey! I hope everyone here continues their acquirement of knowledge whether through academia, industry, or other means. I hope we can all measure our future successes by the individuals we, too, would come to inspire, help, and teach along the way. Remember that the road of knowledge doesn’t stop here. Let us all continue down this road and become the best versions of ourselves together.