Tufts UEP Commencement Speeches 2018: Nakia Navarro, MPP

This will be the first in a series of three posts publishing UEP’s three 2018 commencement speeches. Next will be Christian Brandt, MA, and Erica Walker, alumni keynote. 

To the UEP faculty and honored guests:

Please know I’ve been popping my collar with profound enthusiasm and thankfulness at the blessing of being admitted into this program.

A few thankyous: Mary Davis – your work in sweat shops in Haiti with the great Anne Rappaport; truck drivers and emissions in Maine, and childhood stories of riding shot gun on the arm rest in a gas guzzler absolutely inspire me. Penn Loh – you are an organizing savant! Thank you for your patience with my eagerness and allowing me to experience your wisdom. Barbara – the GIS queen, your practical approach will always be appreciated. Thank you for being my advisor.

I’m forever grateful and quite frankly tickled pink by having the privilege to sit at the feet of internationally recognized organizer Louise Dunlap, THE food justice authority Julian Aygeman, law center founder and master negotiator, Robert Burns and architectural queen, Christine Cousineau. Also, I’m allowed to say greats like Erica Walker, who you heard from earlier, attended the same program and allow little ole me to call her friend.

To my family and support system, this degree is dedicated to you: Aneury Moya, thank you for picking me up when I felt like I could do no more. Mateo Navarro, thank you for your hugs and turning down your video games while I was trying to study. Kayla Navarro, thank you for reducing your eye rolls for all of the sacrificed evenings of having to watch Mateo while I took on Tufts. Daddy, thank you for being THE example for what a man is supposed to be. Brooke, Lisa, Tamy Fee, and Ally, love you too pieces.

Now to the Class of 2018: Yall’, we made it! From stats struggles with SPSS to sludging through Labor Economics, Taxes, Enviro Econ – shoot me, we did it. Together we’ve marched. we’ve protested. we’ve researched. we’ve proposed. So I venture to say, clearly, we are prepared. On social media, we can officially post, #MasteredIt.

MPP’ers, my gray hair homies, we did it! We shared lived experiences with our classmates like what it meant to live through tragedies like Bhopal, the “war on crack” and patiently explained why we are feeling a type of way at the “opiate epidemic” and how help is now being freely offered to its white suburban victims vs how none was available to black nor LBGTQ communities.

It was fantastic to witness these cross generational exchanges occur. I know many of you are asking yourselves, so now what?

Welp, in my humble opinion, we are now prepared to Assess. Plan. Act. Evaluate. and Sustain. Our new found skills will allow us to double down on our efforts to Resist. Reform. Reimagine. And Recreate. In other words, we are now a part of the UEP Movement.

I challenge you to take on this movement by continuing it beyond the affectionately known UEP Brown House. Agree to never let up on the truth for the need for necessary change. To never let up on the understanding that all people, US citizens or not, are human beings worthy of access to safety, shelter, food and water.

Now who am I to extend this challenge?

I am the youngest daughter of Charles Israel who was in the Jim Crow fields of SC until the age of 15, who then went on to serve as a proud marine during Vietnam only to be denied veterans benefits until his late 60s. I am also the daughter of Nancy Jean, who after training in New York was told she couldn’t be a dental assistant in SC because black hands weren’t welcomed in white mouths.

I am the mother of a son who last year lost his battle to lupus because of the lack of sufficient medical care and the wicked harsh realities of street life. I am also the mother of another brilliant son and amazing daughter who many in our society foolishly believe are not worthy of the same opportunities as their white peers. In other words, who I am has been shaped by policies disproportionately impacting those that have historically been last and least heard.

But like you, I am a being who despite bad policies, keeps getting up nonetheless because there is work to be done. Like you, I have a voice to be heard. Like you, I’ve now hashtag mastered it! And most importantly, like you, I’m ready to never let up on the truth and importance of necessary change.

I ask that you consider your degree a symbol of your battle cry, that no more will you stand for bad policy in whatever capacity you serve in whatever this thing called life throws your way. I ask that you work with those in this room should they ever call and request your wisdom. I ask that you take chances, learn from failures, and be the game changers you are already on task to be. I humbly request that you remember this challenge and remember that you are prepared.

You will be great. You will be what your local communities need. Thank you in advance.