Erika Francks

Erika Francks

Changing the Narrative

In her valedictory address, Erika Francks ’17 encouraged fellow graduates to put values over success in their future endeavors.


In her valedictory address, Erika Francks ’17 encouraged fellow graduates to seek value and success in their future endeavors.


Erika Francks ’17 doesn’t shy away from opportunity. Since her first year at Santa Clara, she’s been a force. She brought electricity to off-grid communities in India as a Global Fellow and Global Social Benefit Fellow. She assisted the Ignatian Center’s Thriving Neighbors Initiative where, in addition to the program’s normal demands, she volunteered to teach yoga in Spanish to mothers at Washington Elementary School.

And, with all this experience comes insight. Francks, the 2017 valedictorian, shared not advice but perspective in her valedictory address:

Thank you Lidia (Diaz-Fong)! Thank you Father (Michael) Engh, Provost (Dennis) Jacobs, and Mr. Herrera. Thank you to my mom, my dad, my brother and sister and the families of every graduate here for supporting us through these past four years.

Over the past couple of weeks, many of you have asked me for a personal shout-out in this speech. But don’t worry, I’m not going to make you sit through another long list of names today, so I’ll just say this: Good morning—and congratulations—to the class of 2017!

It is an honor for me to stand before you today, to represent our class, and to speak with all of you about our time here as Broncos and the future that lies ahead.

It’s going to be difficult to let go of a place as beautiful as this. We will miss the professors that became mentors, the friends that became family, and the campus that became a second home.

We will miss these classic symbols of Santa Clara. But even more, we will miss the professors that became mentors, the friends that became family, and the campus that became a second home.

I’m not going to give out any life advice today, because I don’t think I’m qualified to do so. But I do want to talk about something I believe we’ve all learned at Santa Clara about what it means to be successful.

Growing up, my parents gave me a lot of advice! Advice like “Work so hard your coach has no option but to play you,” and “Got a problem? Solve it,” and of course, “Never act dumb for a boy.”

I don’t know how the communication works between all of you and your parents in the audience, but for me getting a random quote sent in a text message from my dad is not strange at all. A quote he sent a few weeks ago really resonated with me, and I think it’s worth sharing with all of you.

He told me, in the words of Albert Einstein, “Try not to become a person of success, but rather a person of value.”

I have no doubt we will all be successful in our lives; we’ve made it this far and I hope we will continue to excel in whatever we go on to do. But as graduates of Santa Clara University we should strive to be not only people of success, but also people of value. To me, this means giving more to life than we take from it.

I’m sure many of you have felt a pressure to be perfect, especially here in the Silicon Valley. My entire life I have been working to be successful. Growing up I tried to be all things for all people all the time, and although I felt “successful” I also knew that my success was fragile. I felt that if I stopped doing even one thing I would feel inadequate.

In coming to college, I realized I would have to let go of parts of my identity that I had clung to in the past in order to grow into the type of person I wanted to become.

I was able to do so because Santa Clara granted us the freedom to explore our passions. Over the years, we each found our place here, whether it was playing a sport as a Division I athlete, working as an Orientation Leader or an EMT, or becoming a leader in the Multicultural Center or Into the Wild. We have each been afforded opportunities to chart our own paths to success.

Santa Clara opened my eyes to a new definition of success. It wasn’t about how many things I was doing for myself, but how much of an impact I was having on others. This view of success, of being a person of value, is rooted much more deeply in who I want to be moving forward, and who I see us all becoming. Our class, and our generation, has enormous potential to be the kind of compassionate leaders the world desperately needs.

It seems that every other week, an article comes out claiming people of our Millenial generation can’t make commitments, have limited attention spans, and don’t care about anyone but themselves. I refuse to let those claims define us. As a generation, as Santa Clara graduates, and as individuals, we are in the process of defining ourselves. We are in a position to show the world that we do care. We are taking ownership of our own stories.

It would have been easy for us to be comfortable here at Santa Clara and to glide through our four years without ever venturing too far outside of our comfort zones. We didn’t. We embraced the mission and values of our Jesuit education to be part of building a more humane, just, and sustainable world. We challenged ourselves to be better. That’s when we learned the most.

I realized that my own values had shifted when I was forced to choose between serving myself and serving others. The summer after my sophomore year I went to India to work for an environmental education organization as a Global Fellow. While I was there we traveled to a village that did not have access to electricity. I met students who were eager to learn, but could not study at night because they did not have light to read. I realized then that I wanted to work on bringing renewable energy to off-grid communities.

The following year I applied for the Global Social Benefit Fellowship, hoping to work on off-grid electrification in a new country. However, when I applied it became clear that my skills were best fit for a placement in India, in the exact same region I’d gone the summer before. Suddenly the possibility of exploring a new country had been taken out of the equation, and I was forced to grapple with my real motivations for applying for the fellowship. Did I really want to dedicate myself to social impact, or was this just an excuse for me to travel the world?

Ultimately, I chose to return to India to work on off-grid solar. In my discernment process I realized that the Jesuit value of service to others was now driving my decision-making. I’ve seen this similar drive in so many of you. Collectively, as we choose to put others ahead of ourselves, we will make an impact!

I’ve watched you travel to build sustainable houses in Nepal and build tiny houses at home. I’ve seen you spend countless hours at Washington Elementary School, working to establish programs to ensure students there can see the path to college. And I’ve stood alongside you as you planned and participated in walks of solidarity, marches, and protests to give voice and support to fellow students at times when their futures may have felt uncertain.

To me, this doesn’t sound like a generation that can’t commit. This doesn’t sound like a generation that doesn’t care about anyone but themselves.

But we were lucky. Santa Clara encouraged us, supported us, and made it possible for us to be people of value. But to be a person of value you don’t need to be halfway around the world. Now more than ever we need moral leaders in every sector. We will be those leaders.

For the past four years we have been looking at the world through the lens of our Santa Clara experience. At times, this was like looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. But that doesn’t mean we are blind to the problems of the world, or that we can’t pay attention long enough to solve them. We are simply optimistic about what the world could look like, and feel empowered to be the ones to make the changes the world needs.

For the rest of our lives, we will be alumni of Santa Clara University. This is both an incredible privilege, and an incredible responsibility. We each have our own passions and motivations—we won’t all tackle the same problems in life. But Santa Clara has taught us that we all do have a responsibility to our community and to our world. So go forth, live out your values, and show the world what it means to be a Bronco!

Erika Francks graduated with a degree in environmental studies and a minor in management information systems. Her next adventure takes her to San Francisco where she’ll work as a consulting analyst at Accenture.