2008 Graduation - Baccalaureate Ceremony

Gigliana Melzi, Faculty Speaker

Congratulations to all of you for having completed successfully a chapter in your life story! Congratulations to all of those people- family, friends [yes, and why not] professors- who have contributed to this success.

Twenty years or so ago when I was in your place, I experienced what I regard as my second most memorable cultural misunderstanding. The first was just 1 hour after landing in the U.S. from Peru. I was 18 and I arrived in Worcester, Massachusetts, all grown up, with my two yellow suitcases and my yellow teddy bear to start college [What can I say, I’ve always been into color coordination!] Two very cute guys had been charged with helping foreign students get settled. [I really should have ditched that teddy bear!] They greeted me: “What’s up”? [What’s up? De qué me hablan estos gringos locos, cómo que what’s up?]. I looked up and answered tentatively: “The sky”? I really did that!

Fast forward, four years later-, completely bicultural so I thought, I was graduating [graduation tune] and everyone was welcoming me into the real world. What real world? [Estos gringos otra vez con sus cosas, qué locos] From where I stood, I had been living in the real world for quite some time. So I dismissed the expression.

Fast forward, eight years later, my first year as a professor at NYU, I’m walking home up 5th Avenue at night, looking at the Empire State Building all lit up [much like a Sex & the City scene] and I’m wondering... how did I get here? How did I really get here?

It was at that moment that I finally understood the metaphor behind that dismissed expression of the real world. It does not mean that your experiences thus far have not been real nor does it speak to the lack of economic independence. It means that in societies such as this one, where educational attainment is key to success, in particular obtaining a Bachelor’s degree, the decisions that you will make between today [yes, today] and the next five years [for instance] will determine who you will become 10, 20, 30 years from today.

That is a little daunting. So it is just simpler to say welcome to the REAL world. It really means welcome to making decisions that will count much more than you can imagine.

Making decisions, at least for me, right after graduation was overwhelming. Expletive! Making decisions while in college was overwhelming. It was so difficult that I became an overachiever: I was a double major in Psychology and Latin American Literature and a double minor in Sociology and French. Simply, I just could not decide.

So right after graduation, I really really wanted a PhD in Psychology; I really really wanted a PhD in Latin American literature, but … secretly I wanted to move to Paris and become a novelist with the hopes of being the second Latin American woman to win a noble prize in literature.

I wanted all of this and could not decide. So, my life just took its course and I there I was walking down 5th Avenue [a la Sex & the City] looking at the Empire State building when I realized that I had been approaching decision making in the least effective way. Fortunately for me, things just happened right, but they could have gone all wrong.

Making a decision up to that point, for me, meant closing doors and therefore limiting my possibilities for the future. So there on 5th avenue, I realized that making a decision does not mean closing a door it really means opening more doors than those you close.

So, now that you are graduating from college, have the courage to open doors, have the courage to make decisions, because only then will you be in control of who you are to become in the future. Choose wisely, absolutely yes. Be thoughtful about which doors you do open. And when you open a door, step through that threshold with passion, conviction, and above all integrity. Then, and only then, will you be one step closer to leading a fulfilling life.

Once more my deepest congratulations to all of you. ¡ Felicitaciones!