Student speakers stress success, survival and fearTweet
Two student speakers offered tributes to Binghamton University educators during speeches at the Fall Commencement on Dec. 12.
Elizabeth Sierra-Zarella, who received a doctorate in philosophy and has taught at Binghamton University, Mohawk Valley Community College, Syracuse University and the University of Texas-Brownsville, spoke on behalf of the graduate students.
“By treating me as a junior colleague, Dr. Diane Wiener (professor of social work in the College of Community and Public Affairs) has taught me to challenge my students, hold them to high standards and identify their strengths so that I might build upon them. Through working with her, I now have a better handle on what it means to be an educator.”
Aaron Gold, who received his bachelor’s degree in creative writing and spoke for the undergraduate students, praised teachers for taking the time to talk and work with him even if they were in a restaurant with family.
“I have been humbled and honored by the best of teachers, all who not only showed me how to pursue my passions, but who still, even as I leave Binghamton, continue to support me and offer me their friendship,” he said. “To you teachers who helped me find my path, I need to take this moment and say thank you.”
A Clifford D. Clark Fellow, Sierra-Zarella celebrated “survival and success” with her fellow graduates. Sierra-Zarella was a teen mother who made the journey from GED earner to PhD recipient while also suffering from vitiligo, a skin condition that causes pigment loss.
She told audience members of taking part in the Dia de los Muertos festivities on the U.S.-Mexican border, where traditional Mexican altares are displayed in honor of loved ones. The altares consist of offerings such as candles, photos, flowers and food.
“Now that we’ve made it through, let’s not forget where we come from,” she told the graduates. “Please don’t shut the door behind you. Remember to build altares, both literal and metaphorical, to survival, joy, success and those who share these occasions with us.”
Gold, who will pursue a career in comedy and acting, stressed to the graduates that fear is a positive: a motivator, a catalyst for forming bonds and “your body’s way of telling you to face the challenges ahead.”
“If you combine your fear with your knowledge, there is nothing you can’t accomplish,” he said. “Horror movies are a great example of this. If there’s a guy in a Halloween mask chasing you, yeah you could run. Or you could just remember what it was like every time you’ve ever worn a Halloween mask, realize his visibility is not at its peak, and trip him.”
Gold said he is ready to be propelled by fear as he enters the real world.
“I’m ready to struggle and fight and be stricken with terror as I risk everything, all in the pursuit of finding what I love,” he said. “If I walk away from that now, then I never deserved to love it in the first place. College was where we learned to fight to achieve goals. … College was the part of life where we were made. Now comes the part where we find out what we’re made of.”