Standing, triumphant

DATE: Monday, June 3, 2024

"My community – my family, and my support in El Centro, TRIO and STEM Starter Academy – helped me figure out what I wanted to be, who I am, showing me how to be my authentic self. They gave me the love I needed." – Carineh Santana '24

Carineh Santana '24 after receiving her diploma at Commencement.
Editor's Note: The following is the Commencement address delivered by student orator Carineh Santana '24 on June 1, 2024. Carineh is an engineering major on her way to the University of Massachusetts.

'College has always been something that I knew I would accomplish. It was something already written in my journey: the inevitable.

So being here today, getting this far, is a no-brainer. What is shocking is the fact that I am up here in front of all these people talking about my journey through college. 

I am not sure how many sleepless nights could have prepared me for such a thing. If you asked me when I first started college if I would be up here speaking to you all, I would laugh and think you were insane. But here I am doing just that. Conquering my fear.

I made this opportunity possible, but not without some help from some very important and special people in my life.  

My community – my family and my support in El Centro, TRIO and STEM Starter Academy – helped me figure out what I wanted to be, who I am, showing me how to be my authentic self. They gave me the love I needed.  

I am a first-generation Latina engineer. This is who I am, but it isn't all that I am. With the love and support of my TRIO and El Centro advisors, I found new ways of representing myself. 

Now I can say that I am a queer, Latinx, first-generation, woman engineer, a daughter and a sister.  

It is hard to be a queer, Latinx, first-generation woman engineer, a daughter and a sister. In many moments I felt like I didn't belong. Being in classes with predominantly white men, I always felt intimidated that I wasn't as smart as everyone else. Being a first-generation college student means I didn't have any idea what college was going to look like or what I was going to look like in it.

I had no idea what to expect or how to navigate the next three years of my life. And yet, I persevered.  

Being my truest self means I joined classes that no one expected me to. I was able to show my true colors all the time, allowing my real self in each classroom.

It means not hiding my inner child while sitting in classes that scare me, letting her live her best life. It means continuing to put myself into challenging situations and finding ways to get through them on my terms, not how people expected me to.

It means accepting that I am one of a few Latinas in the field who will go on to become a leader, proving that women – women of color – can succeed in a "man's field."

But challenges don't only occur in education and the field. Challenges occur in every part of our lives.

How do you show up as your full self when life throws you unexplainable obstacles?

In August of 2023, I was hit by a car, (YES a REAL car), something I never thought would happen to me. I had a concussion all of that fall semester, and boy was that hell.

I wasn't able to perform in my classes the way I knew I could, and that changed my mental health drastically. I really felt like giving up. I didn't want to go to my classes or be in school. I was in constant pain and had no motivation to continue.

I was also devastated because this was the semester before my last, and it was starting to look like I wasn't going to graduate on my timeline the way I had planned.

All signs led to ANOTHER two semesters, and I wasn't at all happy with that idea. I had to endure a lot of pain, and in a lot of meetings, where my advisors tried their absolute best to keep my spirits high, helping me see the good and counteracting all the negativity I was feeling.  

And yet, here I stand. I have overcome all my obstacles, all the challenges that were in my way. I succeeded because I kept pushing, and I kept going even when I felt I couldn't. I did not give up on myself when things looked hopeless, and I picked myself up and gave myself the strength I needed to continue. I persevered and will continue to do that as I go through the next chapter of my life. 

Triumphant – that is what I am.

Here with you all. Here with my supporters who pushed me to be the best version of me. Here with all my peers, professors, advisors, and family members, who helped me on my journey.

We are here standing together triumphantly. 

All that I do is for my mom and my sister. They are my biggest supporters. I wouldn't be as motivated to succeed in life if it were not for them.

Thank you both for being here for me today and every day. I am proud that I am an example for my sister. Because of me, she will know that she can be anything she wants regardless of what others think. She will know that she is a diamond in the rough and destined for greatness.  

I am thankful for my family and for the support of my community at HCC. I celebrate this accomplishment as my own because I kept going. Before being in any support service programs, I had an idea of what I wanted to be and who I am. 

I had the potential but lacked the confidence to see that I was enough to succeed if only I kept going. To those who have not yet reached this peak, know that you, too, can make it if only you persevere. 

HCC is a place for you, a place where you belong, a place for you to learn to be your true authentic self.  

To my peers, I see you, I believe in you, and I will meet you in the future that we will create and share with all our successes.

Continue to be your truest self in the face of adversity. We made it!

Congratulations to the 2024 graduating class of Holyoke Community College!"

PHOTOS: Carineh Santana '24, at Commencement