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'Pórtate Bien'

DATE: Saturday, June 5, 2021

"Don't fake empathy. Live it! When you learn and embrace that you are sharing the world with other humans, you will truly succeed!" – Raúl Gutiérrez, recipient of HCC's 2021 Marieb Award for Teaching Excellence

Raúl Gutiérrez, associate professor of Spanish, delivers his Commencement address to the classes of 2020 and 2021.

Raúl Gutiérrez is associate professor of Latinx Studies and Spanish at HCC, chair of the Language and Latinx Studies departments and co-advisor of the the LEA Club (Latinx Empowerment Association). He was selected as the 2021 Marieb Chair for Teaching Excellence Award, HCC's highest faculty honor. He delivered the Commencement address below to the classes of 2020 and 2021. His speech was pre-recorded for inclusion in HCC's June 5 Commencement ceremony.  

Good morning everyone! ¡Buenos días a todos! 

Thank you, President Royal, faculty, staff, students, and family members.  

To the  graduating classes of 2020 & 2021: You got it done! And you did it during a pandemic that still continues around the world.

Some of us have lost siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts/uncles, and friends in the pandemic. I acknowledge and pay respect to all the people we have lost in the last year. Your persistence, and commitment to your education is something to be proud of. You are powerful! Be proud. Be thankful of this accomplishment, but especially be committed to solidarity.  

As an 11-year-old immigrant child, I learned to be present and committed from mi guelita, my grandmother. Mi guelita María would always end our conversations with "pórtate bien," which roughly translates to "behave well." 

She even said this to me two days before her death, those were her last words to me. Mind you I was in my thirties by then. I used to respond to her with, "I am too old to misbehave" or "I am a good person, I behave," but she would repeat it by syllables: "Pór-ta-te bien."  

For my Latino/Latinx folks, you know what I mean! My usual response was "ok, love ya."

I never truly understood why she always said that to me until years after her passing. What did she mean by this phrase? I truly learnt the meaning of "pórtate bien" during this pandemic. For me now, "Pórtate bien" is to "carry yourself" with compassion, love and solidarity towards humanity. Don't fake empathy. Live it! When you learn and embrace that you are sharing the world with other humans, you will truly succeed! It goes beyond being kind to each other!

Robotic kindness is meaningless without honest and authentic solidarity and commitment to the common good and social change. To "behave well" is to know that in life, there are causes, and people come and go, but the causes stay. 

As Nuyorican poet Miguel Piñero stated in his poem "seekin a Cause," which I will recite now:

he died seekin' the Cause
died seekin' a Cause
and the Cause was dyin' seekin' him
he wanted a color t. v.
wanted a silk on silk suit
he wanted the Cause to come up like the mets & take the world series
he wanted . . . he wanted . . . he wanted . . . he wanted
to want more wants
he never gave
he never gave
he never gave his love to children
he never gave his heart to old people
never did he ever give his soul to his people
he never gave his soul to his people
because he was busy seekin' a cause
& never found his Cause
you see he never never
knew that he was the Cause.

I SAY, you are the "cause" for change in the world. We live in a culture of individual "wants" and winning but true happiness and fulfilment lies in the "gives" and in solidarity. 

While you inhabit this world, you have a great power to be an agent of change in the world around you, but with "great power comes great responsibility."  

Your great responsibility is to show up, speak up, and stand up for others that can't, be it for immigrants & refugees, civil rights, LGBTQ rights, environmental justice, criminal justice reform, and many others.  You can't be neutral Don't be a bystander! Give yourself to humanity and solidarity. For years we have lived in a toxic and inadequate culture of winning. What does it mean to win?

Many of you have had life, the pandemic (obviously), and other things get in the way of your studies but you did not give up! Some of you started, stopped, came back, took a break, restarted... José Mujica, former president of Uruguay, was right when he said that "To triumph is not to win, to triumph in life is to pick yourself up when you have fallen."  

In life, you don't win nor lose, you don't fail, you don't triumph. In life, you learn, you discover, you write, you erase. And you rewrite again. You stitch, you unstitch and you again stitch. The day you learn that the only thing that you will take with you is what you have lived, then you will start to live. 

Learn from your mistakes and be better as a result of them. Even Yoda said that "the greatest teacher, failure is." People say that things happen for a reason, I don't know if that is true but I know "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans" as John Lennon brilliantly said! Life leaves you minute by minute.

Give content, a cause/the cause, to your life. You are the author of your own life. If you have a dream, "una esperanza," fight for it. If you try to pass this dream of a better world on to those left behind, possibly there will be a small breath of your inspiration in the world. And you will be a memory for others that will be more valuable than any monument or any title.  You will be the hope, the cause, that will be achieved by the new generations. 

As many students say to me: How can I do that? Raúl, come on? Just know that the impossible can be achieved with commitment and effort. 

Life can trip you up thousands of times: in love, in work, in the ideas you have, in the dreams that you want to achieve. But a thousand and one times you have the strength to get up and start over. The important thing is the road. Not a goal. There is no finish line. There is no winner's circle. There are no victory laurel wreaths. It is the road you walked, period.  

What difference did you make while walking the road of life? That is what matters! Pick up those that have fallen around you! As the Chicana intellectual, Gloria Anzaldúa, said "Do work that matters," "que valga la pena."

Valga la pena literally translates to "worth the suffering!" Life is hard and sometimes full of suffering, especially in the last year, but creating positive change within the world makes it worthwhile. 

To the graduates of 2020 and 2021, I have the pleasure to know and be known by some of you!

Congratulations! ¡Pa'lante compañeros! 

I ask you to do work that matters! You will be remembered as the class of the pandemic – I challenge you to strive for change. For the next chapter of your life, I challenge you to show up, speak up, and stand up in all of your communities and in all of your endeavors – SIMPLY, GIVE!  

If everyone "se portara bien'' like my grandmother told me all my life, trust me, the world would be a better place. 

In your quest to live in a better world, I say to you:  

Ustedes valen la pena. (You are worth it).

PHOTOS by CHRIS YURKO: Raúl Gutiérrez, Associate Professor of Latinx Studies and Spanish, delivers his Commencement address to the classes of 2020 and 2021.