As a junior at Lighthouse Community Charter School, I was continuously prompted with the question, “Where are you going to college?” I remember being sure that I wanted to attend UC Berkeley and would always respond to their question with: “UC Berkeley! I’m going to be a lawyer.” I had put UC Berkeley on a pedestal in my brain, and I felt like I not only needed to let my teachers and peers know but also myself. I thought that if I said it enough times, I could get myself to believe I would one day be accepted and that belief in my self would make my dream come true. Like I always said and still say to this day to myself and those around me, “You got to speak it into existence!”
Since I was a kid, I’ve always believed that I needed to speak everything that I wanted into existence. I felt like by doing this, I’d be able to empower myself and train my mind to believe that I could accomplish everything that I wanted to accomplish. I’ve always been a spiritual person, so I believed that if I trusted the universe to lead and help me, then it would. Although I knew that I couldn’t rely solely on my spirituality to do all the work, it helped keep the foundation I had within me strong. If I trusted the universe as well as myself, I’d be able to do anything. That’s why when I went on a field trip to UC Berkeley to listen to Ruben Canedo, currently the UC Berkeley director of strategic equity initiatives and a first-generation alumnus, and had him tell me, along with a thousand other students sitting in Zellerbach Hall, to “SPEAK IT INTO EXISTENCE!” I was immediately thankful and inspired.
Canedo started the speech with Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright.” He was singing and making the rest of the high school students sing along with him. The whole building was yelling: “Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon’ be alright!” In his speech, Canedo told us about his life as a first-generation student at UC Berkeley. He told us that, on graduation day, he pulled his parents onstage and told them: “Mom, dad, this isn’t my diploma. This is your diploma! You walk that stage! Go!” And I realized that what he had accomplished for himself and for his family is what I strived for everyday of my life.
The difference between us and adults with successful careers was just time, according to Canedo. We needed to keep our heads up, continue to work hard and let a force of spirituality take care of the rest. By our sheer will, if we wanted something to be ours, then it would be. His final words of encouragement were to go out, point at a tree on campus and yell, “THIS IS MY TREE!” He told us to go to each building, tree, monument, sidewalk on campus and declare it as our own. He said, “Speak it into existence, and it’ll be yours!”
Canedo’s whole speech was uplifting, so I took his advice personally. I was moved and ready to get back to school to start working harder. I wanted everyone who hadn’t heard Canedo’s speech to hear it because I wanted everyone to feel as inspired as I did. I won’t ever forget how motivated I felt after hearing his speech. I remember thinking about how similar we were: We both spoke things into existence and worked hard for ourselves and our families. Surely, if he could make it into UC Berkeley, then I could too.
I always reminisce about Canedo’s speech because I never had the chance to thank him in a proper manner. I remember trying to go up to him after his speech outside of Zellerbach Hall, but instead, I headed over to my friends because he had a huge crowd around him. Everyone was trying to thank him for sharing his story with us, for being brave.
I loved listening to his story because he spoke about being vulnerable and brave for a purpose; I knew it was possible for me to succeed as well. I don’t know if Canedo is still giving speeches to high school students, but I hope he is. I know that if I hadn’t heard his speech, I wouldn’t have been as inspired to keep going. Canedo was the first person who reminded me to keep speaking things into existence, that it was possible to accomplish anything as long as you believed in yourself and trusted the process.
Genesis Alejo writes the Friday column on being a first-generation student. Contact her at [email protected]