Corinne Santiago MFA '19:
Graduate Student Speaker

I didn’t want to go to college. While my parents envisioned my name with BA, MFA, and PhD beside it, I wanted nothing more than to prove I could be successful without a formal education.

This isn’t to say I didn’t love to learn. I actually enjoyed school as an adolescent, reveling in every high grade and positive comment I received on report cards; but perhaps the emerging social justice warrior in me had subconsciously already recognized the racial, class, and gender disparities embedded in higher education.

Regardless of my reluctance, unable to figure out what it is I did want to do as opposed to being so adamant about what I was sure I didn’t, I ended up at SUNY Purchase for my bachelor’s degree. It was the right place for me at a time when I was angry and unsure. It transformed me in a way I needed to be transformed.

Throughout those four years rediscovering my love for writing—learning from people the kinds of things that lit a fire within me, forcing me to forget why I hadn’t wanted college in the first place—I kept that scene from 10 Things I Hate About You in the back of my mind when Julia Stiles shrieks with glee at her acceptance to Sarah Lawrence College.

It became my writer’s goal—to obtain my MFA from Sarah Lawrence.

I shrieked the way Julia Stiles did when I got the acceptance phone call—an experience I’m sure many of you here can relate to.

The past two years have been full of instructors that felt more like prophets and classmates that felt more like long lost family members. Experiences, good, bad, and ugly, have pushed me to take stock of my priorities, discover parts of myself I didn’t know I had been burying, and revealing other parts that I never thought I’d be able to share with others.

Portrait of Corinne SantiagoNot everyone I’ve known has had the same experience I’ve had. The issues of race, class, and a myriad of other privileges that exist in the world of academia that had been lying dormant within me for years came back to the surface and I was forced to deal with my own internal struggles.

This institution is not perfect, and since I don’t think Michelle Obama or Beyoncé are in attendance today, I don’t believe anyone here can say they’re perfect either.

I’m kidding… sort of.

While I know Sarah Lawrence—and every academic institution for that matter—has a ways to go in regards to leveling many playing fields, it cannot go unrecognized what this school has provided for me and for many of you here today, I’m sure.

We are all here because we are fiercely passionate about the fields we’ve chosen to dedicate ourselves to as well as the people that we hope to inspire within those fields: writing, teaching, child development, dance and dance movement therapy, women’s history, health advocacy, human genetics, and theatre. We span age groups, genres, countries, and beyond, and yet we all ended up here.

I hope I don’t only speak for myself when I say that Sarah Lawrence has been what I needed it to be. It has inspired me to question things I never had the nerve to question, to ask for and seek out the things I never knew I needed, and to become the kind of writer and person I never even realized I wanted and needed to be.

School and the experiences that higher education brings with it may not be for everyone—but to those of us who choose it and are lucky enough to have it, it can be life changing in the best and most necessary ways.

As we leave here today with our master’s degrees, I hope we all remember just how fortunate we truly are. May we use our degrees as tools for positive change, encouragement, and light, in a world where for too many others darkness has prevailed. Congratulations, graduates. I hope to see you all shining in every way you possibly can.

Remarks as prepared for delivery