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Community Organizer Urges Graduates to Ensure Their Voices are Heard
Kica Matos, director of the Center for Immigration and Justice at the Vera Institute of Justice, delivered the keynote address and received an honorary degree at the University of New Haven’s 2019 Winter Commencement ceremony.
December, 17, 2019
Kica Matos, the director of the Center for Immigration and Justice at the Vera Institute of Justice, told the more than 700 graduates at the University of New Haven’s Winter Commencement on Sunday that she is convinced she has been a feminist since the day she was born.
"The truth is that fighting against injustice has always fueled and motivated me, but it wasn’t until I stopped looking outside of myself – for validation, approval, and acceptance – and instead focused on the things that I was passionate about and good at that I found my voice," she told the University of New Haven’s newest graduates.
"Your degrees will open up doors for you, and they will also give you access to resources, power, and influence. Use these for the benefit of your communities."Kica Matos
Matos, who earlier this semester visited campus as part of the Bartels Lecture Series, has dedicated her life to protecting immigrant rights and inspiring young people to be engaged. She urged graduates to be active citizens.
"Participatory democracy – the highest ideal of our system of government – requires you to step up, be active, and make sure that your voice is heard," said Matos, who was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. "Your degrees will open up doors for you, and they will also give you access to resources, power, and influence. Use these for the benefit of your communities."
Also as part of the ceremony, Marilou "M.L." McLaughlin, Ph.D., who served as dean of the University’s College of Business from 1981 to 1994, was awarded an honorary Doctor of Business Administration degree. She helped establish and manage the University’s Center for Family Business, and under her leadership, the College of Business expanded into new programmatic areas that have been vital to the University’s growth and development.
Speaking on behalf of the undergraduate student body, Deborah Loren O’Donnell ’20, who earned a degree in liberal studies, shared her story of perseverance. A 41-year-old wife, mother, volunteer, coach, and full-time tax and litigation accountant, she encouraged her fellow graduates to believe in themselves and to live their best lives.
"If there are no opportunities, then you can make your own – even when others tell you that those opportunities don’t belong to you."Deborah Loren O’Donnell ’20
"Greatness is not achieved by birthright, economic, or social status," she said. "It is achieved by believing in yourself and taking advantage of the opportunities given to you. If there are no opportunities, then you can make your own – even when others tell you that those opportunities don’t belong to you."
Erika Lorange ’20 MHA, a wife, mother of six, and first-generation college student, discussed her journey and the obstacles she had overcome. Speaking on the 10-year anniversary of receiving a cancer diagnosis, she said she now has a different memory of the date – one that reminds her that she has "not only survived, she has thrived." She urged her fellow graduates to follow their dreams – regardless of what others may think.
"Remember the significance of completing your degree because there is a reason why not everyone finishes: It is a lot of hard work," she said. "We can look back on this when experiencing challenges in the future and remember that we have what it takes to get through hard times. Don’t let anyone put you in a box and dictate who, what, or where you are supposed to be."