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Congratulations, NYSD's Class of 2020!

Put together a speech for a high school graduating class in just a few hours? And address everything they've experienced, are experiencing, and will experience, but keep the speech under 10 minutes? AND be inspirational in the midst of everything that's going on in the world today? Did my best. With support from my community, of course. Thanks to both Ali Faridi for making sure my ASL was as clear as possible and Elena Ruiz for the ASL-to-English translation/transcript at a very short notice!

Video description: Andrea is sitting outside in a courtyard. There are potted plants, grass, a tree, and a brick building in the background.

Video transcript:

Congratulations, Class of 2020!

Today, we are excited to celebrate your completion of all grades from K-12! As you all know, like you, many other students who graduate from Deaf schools, mainstreamed schools, Deaf education programs, and other schools don’t just have one identity of being Deaf- they have many more identities!

They come from different cultures and have different experiences. For instance, there are Black Deaf graduates, Indigenous Deaf graduates, People of Color (POC) Deaf graduates, LGBTQIA Deaf graduates, DeafDisabled graduates, DeafBlind graduates - how great to see all these students of different identities are all graduating!

Your graduation is truly a special event. This is so because when people from long ago established the system of education, they did not envision students of all different kinds of identities - of different races, cultures, and backgrounds- consistently benefiting or receiving support from the system that they designed. People of these identities were not part of their plan.

Your experiences in this system absolutely had its challenges and barriers because the system did not recognize or align with your culture, your needs, your experiences.

It's true that Deaf education has a beautiful history in fighting for Deaf students' rights to language and education access as well as opportunities to experience true fulfillment in their lives post-schooling. But Deaf education still has flaws. It is not a perfect system. This is because within Deaf education, there are still barriers that prevent Deaf students of different backgrounds from getting the support they need.

Now here you all are, having been able to overcome these barriers and successfully graduate! How? You all were able to do so in two ways: you had a strong, internal belief that you deserved educational opportunities and access and the ability to have a good quality of life after finishing school. Secondly, you had a community of people fully supporting you all throughout your K-12 years, making sure you finished your education! This community included your family, friends, peers, teachers, and administrators who all rallied behind you, fully supporting you.

Now that you’ve finished school, all grown up and ready to enter the world, maybe you’re thinking that life’s an easy, smooth road here on out. But! Just like school had its challenges, the real world has its own, too. You’ll find these difficult challenges all over, wherever you go. So, how do you persist and meet your goals in this part of your life? It’ll be the same ways you were able to succeed in school: fiercely believe that you deserve to chase and seize your life’s dreams and continue to be connected, hand in hand, with different communities who are all ready and willing to fully support you for the rest of your life.

Maybe some of you feel uneasy, nervous, or fearful about finishing school, not wanting to leave school. And that is valid. For some of us, school has been a place where we feel wholly valued and supported. It is a place where we had access to language and education. And we look at the outside world as a place where there are definitely more challenges in finding access to language and cultural empathy as well. But...

There's hope.

As you know, our world is experiencing many serious crises: Many people are losing their lives to COVID-19, and all of our lives are changing because of this virus. It is truly heartbreaking.

Many people are also finally beginning to witness and understand that many Black people die at the hands of law enforcement, and that our community has been devastatingly heartbroken.

But again, there is hope. Many people are beginning to open their minds, and are starting to pay attention, and figuring out how to improve all of this, how to change the world to meet all people’s needs and desires, to improve everyone’s quality of life. Over the course of many generations, marginalized communities have tirelessly fought for their right to live contented lives. However, many other people have ignored and shrugged off their fight, and gone on with their own lives. Now more people are finally shifting their attention and discussing and learning about what can be done. This means now is a perfect opportunity for you to share your experiences, your dreams, your goals, and your advice on how all of us can help improve our world to meet everyone’s needs and goals, including yours!

Once people turn to you and listen to you, change is possible. And while you want others to listen to you, be sure to listen to others from different cultures explain their own experiences as well. When we all do this, this absolutely means that change is even more possible all around, making this even more beautiful!

Now, I have four pieces of advice for y'all:

First, when you go out into the world, you'll experience some pain and maybe trauma. What’s important is when you recognize that you have experienced this, give yourself permission to work with it and focus on healing.

Second: As human beings, we all make mistakes- all of us. You will make mistakes during your life as well. Maybe you will hurt others. Maybe you will hurt yourself. But what’s most important for all of you to know is that you can always change your behavior for the better.

Third: Throughout your life, your identities likely won’t stay the same! You’ll likely experience lots of change as you meet different people, experience different situations, go to different places and interact with different communities. What’s most important is that you connect and stay connected to the communities with which you feel most aligned. There will be communities where you realize you don’t quite fit in, and other communities where you feel you fully fit in. With communities where you feel like you fit in, be sure to fully invest in them for these are the communities that will fully support you throughout your life, making sure that you experience healing, transformation, and a sense of freedom.

Fourth: Most important of all, follow your inner light, your inner fire. Many people in your life who care about you and love you may try to tell you what to do with your life, what steps to take, what to do about work and educational opportunities - constantly giving you all kinds of advice. They do this because they truly care for you. But I strongly encourage you to follow the inner light that you have inside you. If others share suggestions with you and you don’t feel that inner “spark," let it go. If someone suggests something to you that makes you light up inside, follow that feeling! Hold onto that suggestion and let your intuition lead you!

Again, biggest congratulations to y'all, the Class of 2020!

Cheers to you!

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