Senior Recognition Speech 2021
Wednesday, May 19, 2021
Wednesday, May 19, 2021
James Cordero is graduating with degrees in English and in social thought and political economy, with a minor in education. He was one of two recipients of the 21st Century Leaders Award.
I want to begin by thanking all of you—both my fellow English majors, and to all of the staff and faculty, for being here today to celebrate the achievement of graduating in unprecedented times.
I will begin by recounting a story I am certain will resonate with any English major: “English?! What are you gonna do with that?” A student majoring in Business dismissed me. It was in the lounge of Wheeler Hall, during my first weekend of college. At the time, I was so shocked at his incredulity that I didn’t give an answer. Today, I will briefly explore what it is I have done with the English major.
For me, the English major revealed the inherent interconnectedness of humanity that resonates in every text, from video games to literature. Mrs. Dalloway’s struggle for independence is not so different than Joel and Ellie’s bond in The Last of Us—it is connections between characters, between people, that are the anchors of survival. These works remind me that the only world I can survive in is a world in which we all can survive—a world in which the oppressions of class, race, gender, and sexuality, are replaced with liberation for all.
And so I have worked to end these oppressions in my time as a student and labor organizer at UMass, and in my future work as a public school teacher, I will continue this struggle for liberation.
But that is merely my journey. I hope each of you experienced a similar ignition of passion in your studies—a similar ethereal exigence that guides you to make meaning of this world, and to bring your own meaning into this world.
As English majors, we make meaning of everything we see. We understand that everything, from a traffic light to a blockbuster film, is a text that has an intended meaning, and how we interpret that meaning can have a profound consequence in daily life. Making and bringing meaning to a capitalist world that values dollar signs more than our common humanity is inherently subversive, and that is why the value of our major, and ourselves, is questioned. In that respect, to be an English major is to be on the margins. But as we know, it is in the margins of a text that we can find the most important elements, or the most meaningful sentiments.
There is far more to this world than the ability to generate excessive profit. There is meaning in rest, meaning in community, meaning in creative expression.
So, my fellow English majors, I implore you: Think of the meaning you have found in this major, and pursue it. Bring your meaning to the world around you, express your creativity, unleash your passions, and remind the world that it is stories that give life meaning.