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'Challenge Yourselves'

DATE: Monday, June 4, 2018

"Don't be afraid to take another leap of faith, as you have done for your education and careers."

Commencement speaker Alex Sanchez

Criminal justice professor Alejandro "Alex" Sanchez was the recipient of the 2018 Elaine Marieb Chair for Teaching Excellence Award. As such, he carried the ceremonial mace and led the procession into the MassMutual Center arena for Commencement on June 2 and gave the faculty address. Below is the full text of his remarks:

Good morning, Board of Trustees, President Royal, distinguished guests, faculty, staff, family, friends, and, more importantly, graduates.

Today, we honor you, for your great accomplishment of earning your certificates and associate degrees. If I may, I'd like to give a special shout-out to my Criminal Justice students. Please stand to be recognized. I am so proud of all of you! Whoot! Whoot!

To my students: While we hear of so much bad publicity about law enforcement and the criminal justice system, hopefully you can make a difference or a change. It may not be easy, but I believe in all of you and your capabilities to be positive change makers.

Like all of you, I too am a graduate of HCC, and in honor of HCC being a Hispanic Serving Institution ...  wait for it [pulls out tie decorated like a Puerto Rican flag] ... "les mando saludos ha todos aqui ha los graduantes."

Quick Fact: When I was your age (a few years ago) my mother asked me what I was going to do with my life. She suggested, EMT? Police? I thought about it, and while I didn't want her telling me what to do, I looked into policing and at first I said "what am I doing?" "Can I do this?" and I was blessed with a great career and many opportunities, including attending college.

It wasn't easy, working full time with a family and attending school, but I did it, and I can say that while most of you come to the college semester after semester to get this degree, the feeling of knowing that you have finished and earned your degree is one of the greatest feelings in the world, and this day will stay with you for the rest of your lives. I can honestly tell you that I can't remember each and every course I took, or the names of every professor, but I do remember some of them, those who made an impact in my life, but what I remember most is my graduation day.

Today, I extend my heartfelt congratulations to all the graduates and those who have supported you along the way!

So, what is this college experience? Some of you knew you would come while others questioned yourself, can I do this? I wanted to describe the college experience by comparing it with a roller coaster ride. We've all seen them ... we've all ridden them ... but our first time was quite an adventure. This came to me when my daughter Gabriella and I experienced her first roller coaster ride. The waiting, anxiety, the fear and what she didn't know or expect.

When you made the choice to attend college (or when it was strongly suggested), you knew that this would be something different. Something you hadn't prepared yourselves for. It's like getting in a line for a roller coaster ride and telling yourself, either "I can do this" or "What am I doing?" You're watching as others get on the ride, strap themselves in and see that this could be exciting. As you progress through the lines, you wonder if this is the right choice, wondering not only, can you do this? but can you commit yourself to this? and man this is scary! Once you reach the front of the line you are nervous but yet excited because you know this can really be fun. As a prospective student I'm sure you had similar thoughts. Can I do this? Can I commit myself? And, man, this will be scary! Once the ride starts, it's a slow pace and you tell yourself that "this may not be so bad." You're committed.

As the coaster starts up the track, once again you start to panic and think, "Was this the right choice"? Deciding to go to college and starting your first class can bring about the same thoughts and emotions. So, as the roller coaster reaches the top, you get this feeling of OH MAN! WHY! And then it rushes down the track at a high rate of speed. As you brace yourself, it takes a sudden turn and it slams you from side to side. At school, you start to see this as you go, taking classes and realizing that this experience can go up or down and before you know it, it starts its twists and turns and makes you feel like you can't control it.

While some of you get that rush of satisfaction knowing that "you can do this," there are others who are saying "why, why am I here?" This ride will take you up, down, around and over several loops and you tell yourself  that this will end soon. Being a college student means that you've made a commitment of being here and this ride won't be easy for most, but you're here and you're committed.

So, finally, you've reached the final stretch of this amazing ride and you tell yourself, "This wasn't so bad." Some of you will say, "That was awesome" while others will say, "I'm glad it's over."

As this year's graduating class I can assure you that everything in life will have its ups and downs, fast speeds as well as slow ones, but you know that this is part of life, and things will get better. Remember to challenge yourselves and don't be afraid to take another leap of faith, as you have done for your education and careers. Work hard and know that somewhere down the road, someday, maybe here, or somewhere else, you will be in front of a new graduating class and telling your story. Remember that you did this and you can challenge yourself and take another rollercoaster ride.

Oh, by the way, after the ride with my daughter, I asked her if it was fun. She looked at me "eyes wide open" and nodded, yes, it was. I then said, "Do you wanna go again?" and immediately her "yes" nod turned into a strong "NO" nod.

She was glad the ride was over, but she eventually got back on that rollercoaster ride.

Thank you and congratulations to the Class of 2018! 

PHOTOS by CHRIS YURKO: Criminal Justice professor Alex Sanchez gives the faculty address at HCC's 71st Commencement June 2 at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.