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Ode to the Class of 2017

In the midst of so much inequality

By Gilda L. Ochoa, Professor of Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies
Published on LatinoLA: May 23, 2017


Ode to the Class of 2017


Ode to the Class of 2017
Delivered to graduating seniors and their families at Pomona College's Class Day

It's great to be here today
to recognize you all in this way
I want to be here fully in celebration
but I can't without first naming some realizations
I offer these reflections
with all humility
in the lessons you've taught me, class of 2017
Please know, I didn't set out to rhyme
that's just how the words flowed this time
The severity of the issues remain
I just speak them with little academic refrain

First,
There are too many families and friends not with us today
Those who could not afford the trip financially
Families who could not risk a flight physically
This, because of legacies of inequality
Generations of wealth disparity
Contemporary economic policies
and the tool of so-called homeland security
that contain and constrain opportunities,
denying the right of mobility,
hindering fundamental stability,
tormenting our communities and
separating way too many families

Then, there are loved one whose lives have been cut short
sometimes at the hands of the state
There are also our class-mates, students and friends who were to be here today celebrating and graduating
trying to get an education
bringing so much inspiration
Some, still waiting for an explanation

Secondly, I think
about
those in our community
who form the base of this place
who clean, and feed, and ensure the beauty of this space
whose labor -- emotional and physical -- is too often erased
always fighting for dignity,
demanding their rights and sheer humanity
this is not how it should be

Next, I think
about
what is the purpose of education
is it cultural and structural assimilation
bell hooks says it's about liberation
Chicana/o Studies urges political actual-ization
Paulo Freire writes Pedagogy of the Oppressed
For many us
it is about reflection and action
We need radical transformation
especially with
so much violence and decimation
environmental degradation
criminalization
militarization
massive incarceration
detention and deportation
neoliberalism and privitization
and in the words of Collins – a sociologist
Eurocentric masculinist knowledge validation process
Eurocentric masculinist knowledge validation process
How are we complicit in the midst of all of this?
How are we complicit in the midst of all of this?

Yet,
some students say they are torn
Speeding
past demonstrations
To get to class
to learn
about processes of inequality,
systems of domination,
theorizing about the past
Leaving little time to be
today with people and struggle in action
This fast-paced society – leaving no time to pause is affecting us all
This fast-paced society – leaving no time to pause is affecting us all

And,
when
students -- especially of color -- enact their educations
apply their critical imaginations
provide thorough interrogations
show leadership by naming misrepresentations
disrupt racist manifestations
why must they contend with false allegations that dehumanize
why must they contend with false allegations that dehumanize
Are we incentivized to normalize the status quo
Are we incentivized to normalize the status quo

Finally, in the midst of so much inequality, how do we build community
Finally, in the midst of so much inequality, how do we build community
by getting out of the fog
clearing the racism Tatum refers to as smog
naming and reframing multiple hierarchies
understanding hook's work on white supremacist, capitalist, hetero-patriarchy
and Crenshaw's theory of intersectionality
It's about more than just multiple identities

Eliminating institutionalized disparities
Not reinforcing narrow notions of authenticity
Ditching theories of biological and cultural deficiency
Abolishing academic profiling
In the words of Susan Coutin,
re-membering our histories
Practicing Valenzuela's authentic caring

Listening
Sometimes, families resocializing
and occasionally re-educating us faculty
this isn't easy, especially in our society
some would rather scapegoat so-called enemies
And propagate lies
instead of having us realize
what is at stake
when systems of inequality proliferate
what is at stake when systems of inequality proliferate

Thank you, class of 2017, for not confining your learning to papers and classroom
walls,
but instead for taking it out in public for us all
by working individually
and collectively
in solidarity
in schools, communities, know your rights, planting trees, marching
against police brutality
in the streets of Claremont in 2014
challenging the presidency in fall 2016
for diversity and inclusivity with faculty
in support of campus workers al-ways
unapologetically
with much resiliency
and tomorrow out of the campus gates
continuing to collaborate
to create another kind of place,
to make a different type of space
and in that, we celebrate
and in that, we celebrate

About Gilda L. Ochoa, Professor of Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies:
Gilda L. Ochoa is Professor of Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies at Pomona College. She is the author of three books, including Academic Profiling: Latinos, Asian Americans, and the Achievement Gap. This is the first poem/spoken word piece she has delivered.




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