'Because of HCC'
'I realized at HCC that I could make an impact in my community and family one day, to be active in social movements that would change things for the better. Because of HCC, I have a support system I never thought I would have, one that allows me to be of service to others in my community, to help make invisible people visible and to give voice to the voiceless.' – Yannelis Cruz '22
By YANNELIS CRUZ '22
Congratulations, class of 2022! Can I hear you say "We did it" on the count of 1, 2, 3!!!
The past two years we have seen unprecedented times of uncertainty, pain, stress, and loss, but we have persisted in our journeys both academically and personally. From opening our laptops to attend class to learning how to manage our lives through a pandemic, we have fought to make our future brighter than our beginnings, and we have fought to have our voices heard as loud as they can be.
When I entered Holyoke Community College, I was not sure where it would lead me, though I quickly became aware that the stigmas attached to community college students were irrational. I truly believe my experience here was something I would not have gotten from any other institution. I am proud to be a part of HCC and its diverse community.
At times I felt maybe college was not meant for me or maybe I was not smart enough to continue. And while I've had my fair share of struggles, I stand before you as the first woman in my family to graduate college – and I will continue my education after this. As young as the age of 10, I started noticing the lack of representation of people who looked like me and shared experiences I had in the places I admired the most – from the doctors who treated me, to the educators who taught me. I didn't see myself as the hero of stories in television and movies or as an ordinary person of value in commercials or posters.
What does it mean for a person, especially a young person, to look around and not see their human experiences represented? It means for that person to become – both in the eyes of others and in their own eyes – invisible, nonexistent. I realized at HCC that I could make an impact in my community and family one day, to be active in social movements that would change things for the better. And because of HCC I have a support system I never thought I would have, one that allows me to be of service to others in my community, to help make invisible people visible and to give voice to the voiceless.
During my time as HCC's student trustee, I have been an agent of social change. I was able to establish a transit committee and co-chair it because I saw the barrier being put on students' education due to transportation services. I saw my peers' needs not being met and struggling to come to HCC just to get an education everyone rightly deserves, So I knew I needed to help.
My colleague and I spoke to the PTVA representative and advocated for change and created surveys to make sure we understood every student's needs. Currently we have been working on providing a student rideshare option for students and by students as we know how important a community is. I was also able to help participate in a student-led OER initiative to allow students to have the option to have the same quality education without being a financial burden. OER, also known as Open Educational Resources, help aid students to receive free to low cost online textbooks in a time where students are unable to easily afford these materials.
This experience allowed me to better understand the HCC student community. Now I understand that it takes a village to make a change, not an individual.
But I know my story is not very different from many graduates sitting here today, and that's what makes students from HCC unique and powerful. With students coming from many different backgrounds, races, and cultures, HCC didn't make us – we made HCC, by making changes and standing up for what we believe in.
Today we have broken through walls of doubt and fear as first-generation college students, as students who are parents aspiring to have a better future for themselves and their children, and as students breaking through societal barriers saying they can when many others said they could not.
Today is a day of celebration and success, and while you sit in your cap and gown, you should feel a sense of accomplishment for completing this incredible milestone. Whether you are continuing your educational journey elsewhere or starting your new career, be proud of yourself and who you are becoming.
Holyoke Community College opened doors for me I could not even imagine were possible. Thank you, Irma, Myriam, and Vanessa, for being my support at HCC, my partner and my family. And for the Class of 2022, I will leave you with this quote: "Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly."
Congratulations Class of 2022. "Now it is time for us to fly."
PHOTO: Yannelis Cruz '22 of Springfield delivers the student address at HCC 75th Commencement on June 4, 2022.