U.S. Poet Laureate Exhorts Grads: Be Your ‘New You’

Juan Felipe Herrera urges seniors to inspire their communities to change

Herrera delivering speech

Juan Felipe Herrera, U.S. poet laureate and professor of creative writing emeritus, inspires CHASS graduates to embrace the “new you.” Photo by Carlos Puma

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – United States Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera urged graduating seniors at the University of California, Riverside on Sunday evening to celebrate their “new you” and to inspire change in their communities.

“People are waiting for you,” said Herrera, UCR professor of creative writing emeritus. “We think of ourselves, we think of our degree, we think of all those things we want to do. But I want you to think about others. I want you to feel in your hearts and your minds that they are waiting for you. They really are.”

Herrera said that public response to his appearances as California poet laureate from 2012 to 2014, and the response to his June 10 appointment as the nation’s poet laureate illustrate how much people want change and to be inspired.

“They’re really waiting for you,” the popular professor and poet told more than 700 seniors participating in the third and final commencement ceremony for the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences. “They are waiting for you to bring about change. They are waiting for you to bring about change for all, for them, right here, in the Inland Empire, back home in your communities and your neighborhoods. And for the rest of your lives they will be waiting for you because you have the resources, you have the abilities, you have gained the resource, the knowledge and the instruments of communication and they are waiting for you. Only you can be that new you.”

The commencement slideshow is available here.

Here is his speech:

This is a beautiful day because of you. This is a beautiful day because of your familias. Let’s give a big mano to your families, your familias. Let’s give a beautiful mano, a big hand, to all of those that helped you along the way, who gave their time and who gave their energy. And this beautiful campus that you have been in and lived in, studied in and passed exams in, and made it to this point. Let’s give a mano to this beautiful campus. And it’s good to acknowledge each other. I want to acknowledge my creative writing department. I want to acknowledge my chair, Andrew Winer. I want to acknowledge our chancellor, Chancellor Wilcox. And our executive vice (chancellor/)provost, Paul D’Anieri as well. And my wife, who is here in this beautiful space, Margarita,

I’ve been thinking about the new you. The new you. And I wrote some words for you.

People are waiting for you. The new you. People are waiting for you to say the words that will inspire them. I say that because that’s what has been told to me as the new laureate of the United States. And you are the new laureates of your life. The new you. People are waiting for your heart and your mind and your hard-earned abilities to come together to speak out for them. I look around and I travel around the United States and people are waiting. They look at me and they tell me they have been waiting. And so I say that to you.

People are waiting for you. We think of ourselves, we think of our degree, we think all those things we want to do. But I want you to think about others. I want to feel in your hearts and your minds that they are waiting for you. They really are. They’re waiting for you. They’re waiting for you to bring about change. They’re waiting for you to bring about change for all, for them, right here, in the Inland Empire, back home in your communities and your neighborhoods. And for the rest of your lives they will be waiting for you because you have the resources, you have the abilities, you have gained the resources, the knowledge and the instruments of communication, and they are waiting for you. Only you can be that new you. Only you can do that. No one else can do that. Only you can do that. And that’s the key. Are you ready? (cheer) Are you ready? (Louder cheer) Is everybody ready for the new you? I want to hear a big yes. (Yes) I want to hear a very big yes. (Louder Yes)

Once again, I want to say thank you to your parents, Le quiero dar las gracias a sus padres, a sus madres. Le quiero dar gracias a todos. Let’s give them one more time, a muchas gracias, Thank you.

Remember how they worried, remember all their encouragement, remember their words, ‘Why are you majoring in that?’ Remember their words, ‘O, Dios mio, que te pasa?’ What is going on with you? But you made it. You’ve come this far. The new you. You must give your life to this new you. I gave my life to poetry. It seemed there was no room for it. It seemed like there was no path for it. It seemed like there was no support for it. But there was room. And I had to make room for it. And I want you to make room for the new you. We want you to make room for the new you. And people are waiiting for you. You must give it your life, you must give it your time, you must give it your friendship, you must give it the breath you breathe.

Steve Jobs did that, Martin Luther King did that, Harvey Milk did that Cesar Chavez did that, Dolores Huerta did that, John Okada did that, Gloria Anzaldua did that, Julia de Burgos did that. It is your turn. The new you.

Let me tell you a little bit about my father. He jumped on a train at 14, from Chihuahua, way back in the early 1900s. My mother jumped on a train at 12, way back right after the Mexican Revolution. They gave their lives to their new you, and to you. Poverty, not knowing English, in the midst of always moving, always moving, working, towns and ranches, ranchitos y pueblitos, makeshift villages to the big city. How did this happen? My mother’s kindness, my father’s quiet courage. Both of them always having deep faith in change. The new me, the new you. Now I am here.

If I can do it, imagine what you can do. Imagine what you can do. Imagine what you can do. Do not say to your new you, ‘There is no room for you. You have to do what everybody else is doing. You have to conform, snap yourself into the shape of what everyone is saying and doing and thinking. It is impossible in today’s society.’ Don’t say that to your new you. Say, ‘I am here to tell you there is room for you.’

Everyone is waiting for you. Everyone say, ‘Everyone is waiting for me.’ (Audience responded.) ‘Everyone is waiting for me.’ (Audience responded.) ‘For my new self.’ (Audience responded.) ‘For my new mind.’ (Audience responded.) ‘For my new being.’ (Audience responded.) Today is that day.

Thank you, everybody.

Archived under: Arts/Culture, , , , , ,

Top of Page