You Are That New Day
U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera gave a sweeping poetic address to more than 10,000 family, friends, and members of SCU’s Class of 2017.
A rapt audience of about 12,000 Santa Clara University graduating seniors and their family and friends was treated to a sweeping, inclusive, and dramatic poem from the nation’s poet laureate Saturday. The address touched on the forces of climate change, refugees, and conflict, and urged the more than 1,200 graduates to “carry/a satchel of compassion-action for all” and “bring down the walls with your heart on fire/and mind expanding with tenderness.”
“How many bowls of water will you offer/to those living in fear of deportation/in fear of bullying and bullets, in fear of detention/in fear of the forced abandonment of their children/what/will you offer, yes/you/to the ocean and skies?” said U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, speaking at the 8:30 a.m. ceremony at Buck Shaw Field in Stevens Stadium. “What will you say as/you grasp the smoke of bombs, the smoke of billions/the wings and fish and fins flashing in razor nets down below?”
“You will reach for/a bowl of water, a loaf of bread and speak with/the voice of a mother, a son, a daughter, a father/long gone, now grown and love, yes love will come/over your face and you will act and you yes/you will stand and you will bring about peace/food, change, water, unity, meaning, a place to exist.”
Before he shared his commencement poem, Herrera received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree, with Santa Clara University Professor Emeritus Francisco Jiménez ’66 noting “your life and work are profound expressions that call for the inclusion of those who are in the margins of society.”
Herrera previously served as California’s poet laureate from 2012 to 2014. He writes passionately about social issues and is a performance artist and activist on behalf of migrant and indigenous communities and at-risk youth. His work has been known to cross genres, sometimes into opera and dance theatre. While California poet laureate, he created the i-Promise Joanna Project, an anti-bullying poetry project inspired by an elementary school girl who was bullied and killed in an after-school fight in Long Beach, California.
In 2014, he released the nonfiction work Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes, which showcases 20 Hispanic and Latino American men and women who have made outstanding contributions to the arts, politics, science, humanitarianism, and athletics.
Herrera’s poetic address invited the graduates to envision “a garden for all/a fountain where light enters in freedom,” and “a music of voices, everyone’s voices.”
He invited the audience to repeat “we will bring freedom,” and “in our hearts will be the heart of beauty” and of community, of sky and earth, and of kindness.
Valedictorian Erika Francks, an environmental studies major and management information systems minor, who was both a Global Fellow and Global Social Benefit Fellow, spoke to her peers about becoming a “person of value,” rather than a pursuer of success.
“I’ve watched you travel to build sustainable houses in Nepal and build tiny houses at home,” she said. “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,” she said. “This doesn’t sound like a generation that doesn’t care about anyone but themselves. Together, we can change the narrative that surrounds our millennial generation.”
Speaker Herrera, the child of migrant farm workers, is the author of 30 books, including 14 collections of poetry, prose, short stories, young adult novels, and picture books for children. His collections of poetry include:
- Notes of the Assemblage (2015)
- Senegal Taxi (2013)
- Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems (2008), which received the PEN/Beyond Margins Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award
- 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross The Border: Undocuments 1971-2007 (2007)
- Crashboomlove: A Novel in Verse (1999), which received the Americas Award.
The recipient of numerous fellowships and grants, Herrera was elected as Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2011. In 2016, he was awarded the Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement at the 36th L.A. Times Book Prizes.
Herrera was educated at UCLA and Stanford University in social anthropology, and received his MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he has taught. He served as chair of the Chicano and Latin American Studies Department at CSU-Fresno, and recently retired from the Department of Creative Writing at UC Riverside.
In addition to Herrera, honorary degrees also were conferred on Mike and Mary Ellen Fox, dedicated Catholic philanthropists, and Guy Consolmagno, S.J., director of the Vatican Observatory.
Santa Clara University’s undergraduate class of 2017 comprises more than 1,250 students, ranging in age from 20 to 57, with 54 percent women and 46 percent men. During the ceremony, Neil Datar was awarded the Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J. Award; Erik Lars Risa was awarded the Nobili Medal; and Janice Soriano Grandi was awarded the Saint Clare Medal.
A video containing highlights of the address and undergraduate commencement festivities is available here.
Graduate degrees conferred June 16
On Friday evening, June 16, the 870 students who earned advanced degrees in business, engineering, education and counseling psychology, and pastoral ministries celebrated their commencement during a ceremony at Buck Shaw Field. Throughout the evening, advanced degrees were conferred on students from the Leavey School of Business (242); the School of Engineering (324); the School of Education and Counseling Psychology (286); and the College of Arts and Sciences’ Pastoral Ministries program (18).
Prior to the graduate ceremony, students Suzette Charters, Kenneth Loh, Akshaya Shenoy, and Geetha Vemulapalli were presented with the School of Engineering’s Graduate Academic Excellence in Engineering Awards.
Jun 17, 2017
United States Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera addressing the Santa Clara University Class of 2017. Photos by Anil Kapahi.