Each year CUNY SPS asks graduating students to apply to be the Student Speaker at Commencement. As part of their application they are asked to submit their anticipated speech. At the end of the process only one student is selected, however, numerous speeches embody the spirit of the graduating class. We are proud to share some of these speeches here.

Danielle Lucchese is graduating from CUNY SPS on June 6 with a Master’s Degree in Disability Studies and this is her speech:

I would like to begin by sharing a piece of advice one of my college mentors gave me a few years ago: follow your heart. These three words, though sometimes under estimated, are worth some deeper thought. For each of us, our hearts, for one reason or another lead us to CUNY SPS. Whether we pursued a master’s degree, bachelor’s degree or certificate, our time at CUNY SPS has claimed a space in our personal narratives. Although all of us share the commonality of deciding to pursue our studies at CUNY SPS, our experiences and memories differ. I would like to share a fragment of my CUNY SPS experience with you.

My CUNY SPS adventure began when I received my acceptance letter into the Disability Studies master’s degree program, only five days after graduating college. Less than a month later, I followed my heart and decided to pursue my graduate studies at CUNY SPS, instead of Hunter, where I was offered admission into their master’s in Social Research program.

As a disabled student, my initial thought was that I was going to study a subject that was very familiar to me. The truth is, I could not have been more incorrect. While I did bring some personal experience and prior knowledge to my studies, I did not know all that there was to learn. In fact, I soon realized that learning is never ending.

My views on what disability is and how the concept needed to be explored changed. The language in which I used to describe and discuss disability shifted. I met both fellow students and faculty who had disability experiences contrasting mine. I began advocating for disability on a broader level when I joined the CUNY Coalition for Students with Disabilities, made lobbying trips up to Albany and testified on the importance of funding for online education. Two years later and I am here, celebrating with each of you, who also decided to make CUNY SPS part of your journey.

As we leave CUNY SPS, it is important to both look to the future and continue to follow our hearts. As individuals now equipped with educational tools, we are responsible to continue our work in the world, regardless of our chosen fields and leave it better than we found it. As disability advocates, sociologists, psychologists, business women and men, higher education faculty and staff, among other careers, always remember that we have the power to assist in creating change in the world. Some of us will go on to contribute valuable ethical research and advocate for policy changes, some of us will use passions of ours such as theatre and apply them to the broader world. Some of us will expand on knowledge gained and pursue further studies. Regardless of where our futures take us, we must remember the importance of creating change in the world, ultimately expanding on the work of the individuals who came before us and paving the way for the people who will one day follow a similar path.

Of course, many of us did not achieve our goals alone. I would like to take a moment to acknowledge everyone who has shared in some aspect of our journey: family, friends, faculty and the larger CUNY SPS community and say thank you. Thank you for your support, guidance, love and encouragement. Without you, my fellow graduates and I would not be where or who we are today. No matter where the next chapters take us, we hope you will be there cheering us on.

Finally, I would like to conclude with a quote from one of my favorite books, Tuesdays with Morrie, “Devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to the community around you and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” I hope that wherever your heart takes you, your path allows you to both devote yourself to something you are committed to and ultimately contribute to changing this world for the better.

Thank you and congratulations class of 2016, we made it!