“Our Voices and Identities Empower Us”

Congratulations to the Class of 2020! As iMentor seniors attend virtual graduations across the country, we want to join mentors, program managers, and everyone in the iMentor community in celebrating this important milestone, particularly in light of the many challenges this year has brought, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the continued police brutality against Black people.

Below is an excerpt from congratulatory remarks to seniors by Betsy Pichizaca, a former iMentor student and an intern at iMentor NYC for the past three years, who addressed graduating seniors at two recent events arranged by iMentor’s PSP (Post-Secondary Program) team that served as an orientation and introduction to the benefits of the program for hundreds of mentor and mentees.

In addition to featuring videos and messages for seniors from iMentor staff and high school program managers, the orientation shared helpful advice and resources for transitioning to college and tapping into support from mentors who can offer academic and professional guidance.

First and foremost, I want to applaud the Class of 2020 for their strength, resilience and fortitude, as we are not only battling a pandemic but the systematic racism, police brutality, and injustice that outlines society. To say that we are living in times of change is an understatement. To say we are at the pinnacle of a social awakening with young people like us at the center is the reality.

My name is Betsy Pichizaca and I am a rising senior at Hunter College, studying political science, English, and sociology. I have worked at iMentor for a little under three years in various roles after participating in the program throughout high school, most recently as a development intern and qualitative research assistant. I am also in the process of choosing between law or business school, exploring both options in my last two semesters of college.

I often lead my “professional” introductions with these statements, with the only shifts in my current job and year in college. The hollowness in the description and the absence of my true identity among the words came from years of being rendered to a number in the form of a grade, test score or national statistics. Bubbling in the circle next to “Latinx,” and “female” was the extent of who I was, and who onlookers saw.

These broad, singular points of identification failed to captured who I am as a first-generation American and college student who learned English while teaching it to my parents at the age of five, translated mountains of paperwork word for word for my mom at the age of eight, and was handed the responsibility 10 years later to testify in front of an immigration judge on why my parents deserved to stay in the country they’ve called home for over 20 years.

The lack of room to profoundly explain the valuable lessons of hard work, independency, ambition, and how to move seamlessly between tongues left me questioning the importance of proudly proclaiming who I am when no one saw it necessary.

High school was a time where we all began to develop the individual we saw in the mirror, but it is the post-graduation realm where you embrace it. Four years ago, it didn’t seem relevant or vital to call out the parts of my identity, much less openly talk about the way each experience molded me into the person I am today or construct spaces to discuss them. It was not until recently that I began to discover the power of owning who I am as a person and elevating my voice, experiences, and perspective in all contexts.

For everyone with us today, the next couple of months will be a time when your identities and the different parts that make up the person who we all see, hear, and meet today will evolve.

Whether it is growing comfortable in your skin or taking a seat at all the metaphorical tables, or refusing to be silent while others construct the narrative about our surrounding world, the process of growth will be continuous. At its core, there will be opportunities to be candid and confident across different contexts, and if those opportunities do not exist, I prompt you all to create them.

There is no denying that stepping up to the plate, putting ourselves out there, and being heard is a difficult task, one that as a formerly timid person was hard to wrap my head around. As the new generation of leaders, doctors, activists, CEOs, students, employees, teachers, etc., we have an undeniable responsibility to live up to our potential and contribute to the bigger conversations happening all around us. Our voices and identities empower us in unfathomable ways that I hope all of you will feel as you journey into the next stage of your lives.

Between ordering textbooks, hanging out with friends, starting a new program or job, and attending virtual orientations, leaning on the people who have been your cheerleaders through it all is one of the pivotal steps you will take in the coming weeks. Expanding your group of supporters starts with strengthening the bonds you have now. I remember soaking up all the time I had to connect with my mentor and fortifying my friendships with close high school friends before being thrown into the unknown that was Hunter College.

Alongside cementing the relationships you have built in the last four years, using the following weeks to get know your new program managers and advisors alike will lay down the groundwork as the new set of guides in your lives. Knowing that if I trip or fall, get a bad grade on a midterm or receive a rejection email from a job, there would always be a great group of people behind me ready to pick up the phone, send a comforting email or simply hear my rants, is perhaps one of the best parts of having a community behind me and I encourage you all to create your own.

I recently heard this exceptional quote from Maya Angelou: “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”

It is an understatement that the next years will be a rollercoaster ride, filled with excitement, anxiety, all-nighters, the occasional liter of iced coffee during your 9am class. It’s okay to feel unprepared and to fear the unknown but whatever something out of your control occurs, know that you are powerful enough to push past it. You are strong, resilient, brave, brilliant and able to do anything and everything you set your minds to.