2014 Valedictorian Justher Gutierrez Reflects on Saint Mary's

Justher Gutierrez, the valedictorian of the class of 2014 at Saint Mary's delivered a Justher Gutierrez, valedictorian, class of 2014 stirring speech before more than 760 students, the largest graduating class in the College's history, on Saturday, May 24th in a sun-drenched SMC Stadium.

In her valedictory address "What? So what? Now what?" the 22-year-old Milpitas resident called on her fellow graduates to contemplate their academic achievements with pride and to remember the importance of carrying the College's tradition of service for the common good with them into their professional careers and personal lives as they leave Saint Mary's.

"My fellow Gaels, I do a lot of reflecting. I think back to who I was as a first year student, wanting so desperately to find where I fit," said Gutierrez. "During my time at Saint Mary's, I've realized that it's not that you find where fit. There wasn't a me-shaped spot somewhere on this Earth that I had to find and click everything into place. It's not that. That's not how it works. It's that you create the space where you fit."

Gutierrez implored the class of 2014 to recognize that they possess unique abilities to change the world to make it accommodate their own experiences and identities, rather than surrendering to a set of expectations for their gender, ethnicity or generation."There is no one-size-fits all model for how to be. Our school knows this. I say this as I stand here before you, a 4'11” Filipino American woman with a funny name, delivering a valedictorian speech," she said.

Gutierrez was also the recipient of three prestigious academic awards from Saint Mary's. She was awarded the College's Byron Bryant Award for an outstanding academic record as a communication major, the James L. Hagerty Award for the most exceptional scholar in the School of Liberal Arts and received Saint Mary's top leadership honor, the George Robert Milliken Award, which recognizes a graduating senior who exemplifies the college's values through his or her actions and whose influence, ideals and involvement will leave a lasting positive impression on the college.

In order to be selected as valedictorian, a Saint Mary's senior must have a cumulative Grade Point Average over 3.75 to be eligible. All seniors who met the academic standard were invited to submit an application for the honor. The application included a resume, a list of student involvement in academic clubs, student clubs, student government, athletic teams and any awards and honors. Forty-six students in the 2014 graduating class had GPAs that qualified them for the honor and 16 sent in applications. Gutierrez's GPA was 3.859 at the time of her application.

A selection committee, comprised of students, faculty and administrators, also reviewed essays by candidates explaining why they wanted to be the valedictorian and what the College's Catholic and Liberal Arts traditions and its Lasallian core principles — concern for the poor and social justice, faith in the presence of God, quality education, respect for all persons and inclusive community — have meant to them as a Saint Mary's student.

Richard Carp, Saint Mary's vice provost for undergraduate academics, said Gutierrez's selection as the 2014 valedictorian exemplified the College's mission of education as social justice. "We are extremely proud of her tremendous accomplishments," said Carp.

Watch Justher Gutierrez deliver her valedictory speech on the College's YouTube channel, or read the text of her speech below.

Justher Gutierrez's Valedictory Address

Good morning my fellow Gaels. President Donahue, administration, faculty, staff, friends, family, and everyone who chose to spend this extremely special Saturday with us - welcome. Thank you all for being here. It’s fantastic to see this crowd full of so many wonderful members of the community.

And a big hello to the class of 2014. In the weeks leading up to commencement, I found myself reflecting on my time at Saint Mary’s, as I’m sure many of you have done as well. During those moments, I turned to a model that I first learned in the Catholic Institute for Lasallian Social Action, and I would like to share that with you today.

My fellow Gaels, though our papers have been turned in and we have many celebrations awaiting us, I invite you all to ask yourselves three simple questions: What? So what? and most importantly, Now what?

Let’s start with the first question: What? What did we do during our time here? What is it that we’re walking away with today? A diploma, sure; a college degree. But what did we have to do in order to get the diploma? Our transcripts can easily tell us that story, but there’s more to our experiences than the number of credits we have printed on a piece of paper. Those numbers and letters cannot begin to articulate our unique joys and challenges we experienced to get here, though for many of us they are the direct result of delusional all-nighters, extra practices, late rehearsals, the work-school balancing act, and the frenzied rush of event planning and student involvement.

These accomplishments appear neat and tidy on fresh sheets of copier paper and cardstock meant to impress and dazzle family, friends, and of course, potential schools and employers. But regardless of how full your resume looks, you know it’s not the complete story. Listing involvement at on-campus organizations and clubs does little to tell others about the people that made your time worthwhile. The title of your travel Jan term course doesn’t capture the bright faces of the children and new friends across the globe who have changed your lives forever. What becomes of the guidance and support you provided your peers in your classes, groups, and teams? And what of the guidance and support that was provided to you by your fellow Gaels and through places on campus such as Mission & Ministry, the Career Center, the Women's Resource Center, the Counseling Center, Health & Wellness, and the Intercultural Center?

Even further still, what is said about the Sodexo food workers and Able janitorial workers that keep this place functioning every single day? My friends, it's important to recognize all persons, big and small, who helped us get here today.

Of course, while we're talking about supportive figures we've met during our time at Saint Mary's, we must also recognize the Christian Brothers. The Brothers engage in a number of activities including but not limited to spiritual guidance, teaching classes, and, for a few of us lucky souls, some amazing homemade food paired with great conversations.

It’s those details and connections that get lost when we look at monochromatic papers meant to summarize our time in this community. But just as any student who forgot to do the reading can tell you, summaries are helpful. Consider this: Just this past year, Saint Mary's welcomed our first lay president, James Donahue. The cross on the hill has been replaced. We've added a host of new faculty and staff into our community.

There are so many things that make our individual experiences unique, which is why it is important to reflect. My friends, remember what you did on this campus. Remember the people who supported you and the people you supported.

So we come to our next question: So what? We're getting this college degree. So what? What does it all mean? Why does it matter? So what?

This question was posed earlier in the year during the Inaugural Symposium, which asked, “What is the value of a Catholic Liberal Arts education in the 21st century?” Pope John Paul II's Ex Corde Ecclessaie puts service at the forefront. The document states, “service to others for the promotion of social justice is of particular importance for each Catholic University, to be shared by its teachers and developed in its students.” This is something I witnessed a lot in my service with CILSA, seeing students, faculty, staff, and community partners work together to address a diverse set of issues that hit our community today. I am constantly in awe of the amazing work that our community does for each other and for the world outside of this campus.

This culture of service, of support and understanding towards each other, is present not just in the service learning courses or CILSA, but also in the relationships we’ve made on this campus. Think about the friendships you’ve made here. Think of the strong bonds you have with faculty and staff. Think of what they have done for you. Now turn that around and think about what you would do for them. That’s our sense of service to one another.

But some of you may still be asking: So what?

While our Catholic and Lasallian traditions help foster a drive to serve our community, it’s important to recognize that our liberal arts tradition also allowed us to develop as individuals. John Henry Newman states that education gives students “a clear conscious view of [their] own opinions and judgments, a truth in developing them, an eloquence in expressing them, and a force in urging them.”

In other words, our education helped us form our own views and share these judgments in a way that is both comprehensible and well-delivered. These are useful skills to have. In fact, they are something to celebrate. But, to tie it back to the greater good, these skills are only useful if you use them and share them with others.

My friends, we are a bright and talented bunch graduating from Saint Mary's College of California. When any of us first pull up to this campus, we are greeted by the sight of the statue of De La Salle, and we remember the often recited phrase, “Enter to Learn, Leave to Serve.” This motto is a point of pride for all Gaels. We cannot forget that. We enter this experience with bundles of books and leave with a deeper understanding not just of the texts, but of the people and world around us.

Our experiences here have been marked by academic rigor, strong views, and lasting relationships. The lessons we learned here, both in and out of the classroom will endure and work to better not just ourselves or our immediate Saint Mary’s community, but every community we touch.

Finally, we've come to the point where we have to ask ourselves: Now what? What are we doing after the chairs have been put away? After our student IDs hit their expiration date? After we remove the parking stickers from our cars?

All of us have different answers to this question. But whether we're continuing our education, taking some time off, or playing job field, I have to tell you – as anxious and uncertain some of us are now, there are even more people out there who are shaking in their boots because of our generation. Really. It seems as though Forbes has an article every week talking about how millennials are having a hard time integrating into the workplace.

“Integrating.” As though the models we have in place are the only ones that will work. As if the system will never need any tune-ups or fixes.

My fellow Gaels, I do a lot of reflecting. I think back to who I was as a first year student, wanting so desperately to find where I fit. During my time at Saint Mary's, I've realized that it's not that you find where fit. There wasn't a me-shaped spot somewhere on this Earth that I had to find and click everything into place. That's not how it works. It's that you create the space where you fit. You try everything, you get involved. You play sports, perform, attend cultural nights and other events, join clubs, take up leadership positions. You surround yourself with people who support you, and you support them back. That's how community works.

So when any of us talk about entering the world outside of these Moraga hills, it's important to know that some people will cut out these shapes and expect you to fit in them. And yes, of course, we must adhere to basic rules. Yes, unfortunately, sweatpants chic does not fall under the umbrella of business casual. There's no moving that rule or rules like it. However, I ask you all to continue to create spaces where you fit. Do not buy into the idea that there is only one way to be successful. Do not feel constrained to only one narrative.

There is no one-size-fits all model for how to be. Our school knows this. I say this as I stand here before you, a 4'11” Filipino American woman with a funny name, delivering a valedictorian speech.

As I mentioned before, all of us have different responses to the question, “Now what?” But we are poised for success, in all of the varying shapes and sizes it takes. Our time here has helped mold who we are today just as we have influenced others on this campus. Brilliant individuals make for a vibrant community. Now it's time for our sense of community to go beyond the edges of the chapel lawn.

My friends, I hope that when you look at your diploma, you remember all parts of your experience because they are what got you here today. Look at the faces around you and in the crowd. Soak in the smiles from your family and friends. This is our community that helped us through it all, from the first orientation icebreaker to our very last final. And that support doesn't end here. You will always be a Gael. Nobody can take that from you. Whatever we face, we will be there for one another. This is what we were taught, this is how we live, this is how we will keep on living.

There it is, my friends. What? So what? Now what?

Now what?

Now that we’ve entered to learn, we leave to serve. Now we support others just as they have supported us. Now we create the spaces where we fit.

We've learned so much during our time here. Now it's time to go out and share it.

Congratulations Class of 2014. This is us. This is our community. We made it.

Justher Gutierrez, '14, Communication Major, Saint Mary's College of California