State Rep. Liz Miranda, who represents parts of Dorchester and Roxbury in the Legislature’s Fifth Suffolk district, gave the commencement address at her alma mater, Wellesley College, last Friday. Among the graduates from the Class of 2021 in attendance were two Dorchester natives, Saran Inniss and Lakeyia Mumford.
Following are excerpts are from Miranda’s prepared remarks:
“I am incredibly humbled that you chose me to share this sacred space with you. To the graduates, all 570 of you, some of whom are here on the green and over 100 students who are tuning in, virtually, from Rwanda, Morocco, Zimbabwe, India, China, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Puerto Rico, I see each and every one of you.
“I am now one of only 16 Black women who have ever graced this podium in 143 years of this address, joining trailblazers like Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the first to bless this stage. Others who followed, like Maya Angelou, Anita Hill, Oprah, Toni Morrison, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and now me, Rep. Liz Miranda…
“I can remember the drive from my grandparents’ house on Clifton Street in Roxbury to Central Street here in Wellesley in the fall of 1998. Only 10 miles away, but it felt like worlds apart.
“My family’s story begins with my grandfather, Manuel Goncalves Miranda, who came to Boston in pursuit of the American Dream in 1976 from the newly freed colony of Cabo Verde on the west coast of Africa after a war led by Amílcar Cabral against Portuguese colonial rule. With a full heart and working hands, he came to build a foundation, working in a factory, preparing to send for his family still back home.
“Our family came to this community at a crossroads, experiencing environmental injustices, red-lining, divestment, but it was also transforming into a vibrant tapestry of people from different cultures.
There are two movies and a book called “Streets of Hope” about our neighborhood, the “Dudley Triangle,” rebuilding the community after decades of injustice. I bore witness to the people of our community who literally reimagined what our community could be and rose it from the ashes, reclaiming over 1,400 parcels of vacant land for public good. It is here that I learned about my own agency, the power of hope, and possibility.
“From whom and where I come is such an important part of who I am, and who you are. I embraced my family’s story, became stronger from the lessons of community organizing, and the power of everyday people to do extraordinary things. That beautiful tapestry of people was a powerful, driving force across my life. Thank you to the people of Roxbury and Dorchester, who taught me how to speak truth to my own power and see my worth in a world that was determined not to…
“Before my move-in day at Wellesley, I had never set foot on the campus. I couldn’t; I was at work. I missed orientation; I was at work. I was always at work. As the students around me started to settle in, I was filled with worry. My birth father had just been deported, and my siblings were incarcerated. I worried whether or not I could even afford to stay in this beautiful place—my family had already sacrificed so much.
“My family and I had pulled up to Wellesley like 20 deep, with my little cousins, my three-piece Sanyo stereo and my prized Tupac poster in the back of a U-Haul truck. It was a whole family affair. As we drove on the windy road to Stone D, I remember it being so green, with castle-like structures, and the air smelled so pure and fresh. I was now the Fresh Princess of Wellesley—I was ready for my Hillman College experience that I had seen on TV, the fictitious college on the show A Different World, and sure enough, a different world it truly would be for me.
“After my family left, I felt alone, but I was not alone. I didn’t know that yet. I had my roommate, Amelia, the ballerina from West Virginia, my soon-to-be family at Stone D, Anna and Regina, the first two sibs I met walking around trying to get my trash bin and flip-flops from the Students’ Aid Society. I missed my family and friends, missed my block, the sights and sounds of Dudley Street, the sound of funaná, children’s laughter in the schoolyard, and ’90s hip-hop, the smell of soul food and arroz con frijoles, and my grandmother yelling to me in kriolu to come inside.
“I missed the noise, the No. 15 bus, and I soon realized that I was actually no longer home, but in a matter of weeks, I would build a whole new community, a new family, that would support me through my journey at Wellesley.
“For some of you, Wellesley has been your home. A beautiful oasis that helped you become who you are today. For some of you, this space created challenges that were difficult to overcome. You may have struggled with imposter syndrome and felt like you did not belong…. I have learned that home is not always just about one physical space. It is not just about the beautiful memories of where you grow up. Home is also the space that you create for yourself. The love and agency you use to build a beloved community all around you.
“Creating your own sacred space where you can be your authentic self is never easy, but it’s so worth it. You will create beautiful new spaces that bring healing to our society, innovation to our doorsteps, and transformational love to countless communities…
“Over four years on this campus, the community we built together worked to hold the institution accountable just like you have—you’ve carried a torch that will not stop today, or tomorrow, or the next year. Every generation has the opportunity and the responsibility to move us closer to justice. You have organized, mobilized up until the very day of commencement. You’ve fought to reimagine public safety on this campus, to end the use of gendered language, and the institution’s investment in fossil fuels. There is something about this place that forces you to reflect not only on who you are today, but who you want to be tomorrow.
“Dr. King once said, “I have seen the power of God transform the fatigue of despair into the buoyancy of hope. I am convinced that the universe is under the control of a loving purpose, and that in the struggle for justice, all of humanity has constant companionship.”
“Sibs, although there is so much that is pushing up against us, my heart is full of joy and hope today because we continue to push forward. The Black Lives Matter movement is pushing us forward, the movement to end hatred toward our Asian friends and neighbors is pushing us forward, and climate justice organizers who are fighting for our world push us forward, and the disruptors and the truth-tellers who are fighting to restore and protect our shared humanity…
“In 2017, after my brother Michael was murdered, tragedy pushed me forward. It was a defining moment that called me to serve. Just like the movements of our time, built on pain, tragedy, loss, and injustice, my brother’s loss built a movement in me. When I first walked into the Massachusetts State House, I learned quickly that this space was not built for me either, but I was drawn to answer, and to answer the call to serve. See, the assignment was greater than me.
“But now more than ever, I am determined to make this space my home, just like the Dudley Triangle is my home, just like Wellesley is my home. Now I have the power to make any space I enter home. Sibs, you will encounter a world with spaces that feel like you don’t belong, but you hold the power and agency to make it your home and to stand in your truth.