Remarks delivered at STCC’s 55th Commencement, June 2, at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

Good Evening.

Dr. Cook, Esteemed Members of the STCC Board of Trustees, Faculty, Staff, Administrators, families, friends and most importantly – the Springfield Technical Community College Class of 2022!

It is truly my honor to be in front of you tonight as you enter the next chapter of your life.  I’m grateful to have been selected to spend this memorable moment with each and every one of you…

I was given 1 hour to speak, but I can’t talk that long without water, so I purposefully left that at my chair.

You may be wondering why isn’t J Lo, or Cardi B, or even Michelle Obama, addressing you.  But I assure you it is their loss for not being available tonight. Instead you get me: Lydia Estel Martinez-Alvarez – recent Retiree and the first Latina Assistant Superintendent of the Springfield Public Schools. The very same school system that I graduated from, and though I did not graduate from STCC, I have been a true partner and believer in everything that this fine Institution stands for.

Tonight… I will tell you a story, and it is a story about a young girl. This young girl was a member of a family with just one parent, and the mother of that family had 4 small children, and this family lived in a house where there was much love, structure … and discipline.

The mother, she valued many things, especially education, and ensured that her children went to bed clean and fed every night, even though she often went to bed hungry so that her children could eat.  Evenings in this home began with the children taking baths, having a bedtime snack, brushing their teeth, using the bathroom, and then off to bed. The mother did not like the children to get up during the night, so using the bathroom that one last time before bed was important – I see all you parents out there in the audience.

One night after the children were bathed, fed, teeth brushed, bathroom used, and put to bed, the mother began her nightly chores … chores that the children had no clue were happening. The youngest of the 4 children… let’s just call her Lydia… could not sleep one night, and really had to use the bathroom.  You see young Lydia drank a little too much water before bed. She looked around to see what was happening, and only saw dark and quiet.  She proceeded to the bathroom …She opened the door and screamed!  Her mother also screamed (Ay Dios Mio)!  The little girl was startled by the mom, and the mom was startled by the girl.  

The mom was on her hands and knees washing the clothes of her children so that they would have clean clothes for school. She washed the clothes by hand because she could not afford a washing machine or money to go to the laundromat. The little girl used the bathroom, went back to bed, and didn’t think about what she just saw. She did not understand, and so life went on.

About a decade later, that same family, and that same little girl, was about to celebrate her quinceanera – a quinceanera is a tradition in some Spanish cultures. It is a coming-out party, like a Sweet 16, except that it is celebrated at 15 years of age… and just a little more elaborate. The young girl had grown into a young lady and as her mother helped her dress for the occasion, the young girl started crying. She did not cry because she was sad; she was crying because that night in the bathroom that happened so long ago came rushing back to her as she held her mother tight. She suddenly realized the sacrifices that her mother had made to get her to where she was. And in that moment, that young lady made a commitment to herself and her mother. She committed to her future, and to doing whatever she had to do to succeed, including vowing to herself, that when she could, her mother would always have a washing machine.

So, once Lydia graduated from Tech High, she put on her best pair of shoes and went out to conquer the world. She started by graduating from Westfield State University with a degree in Business.  But 10 years later, and like many of you, she changed her mind and wanted to switch her career, but she was not sure what she wanted to do. She took a job as a substitute teacher to make ends meet, and quickly realized how much she loved teaching.  That love turned into a full-time job as a teacher, and included pursuing a Master’s degree in Education. She had set a career in motion that she could never have imagined, and one which did not always include a vision for how she would get to the next level.

Sometimes the next level was aided by advice or help from someone who saw something in Lydia that she herself did not necessarily see.  After 7 years into a career in education, that same little girl became an Assistant Principal, and then a Principal. Oh but she did not stop there, she went on to be a Senior Administrator and a Chief Schools Officer, and eventually became the First Latina Assistant Superintendent in Springfield.

While one chapter is now closed, and I did retire from that job, my career is not finished.  Today I am the Director of Educational Leadership for a company called Paper, which provides supports that help students reach their potential.  Not in my wildest dreams, did I imagine, when I was sitting in this same spot as you … when this was called the Springfield Civic Center … that my career would be so fulfilling, and so significant, and that I would sacrifice so much of my personal time for a community that I truly believe in and love.

As President Cook noted earlier, teaching and learning is about action, so Graduating Class of 2022 – please rise again – I am going to count to 3 … and when I say 3… give the biggest round of applause to honor, like my incredible mother, every person that helped you get here today.  Let me see your passion – these are the special people who believed in you… sacrificed for you… and helped you achieve this milestone tonight.  Ready 1…2… 3!

Thank you for doing that; please be seated.

To conclude, I am proud to share my story with you, because like me with my mom, you too made a commitment… to yourselves, and to your families, and that commitment has you here.  AND, like me, you are not done yet. 

STCC is one chapter in your commitment to an ongoing future. This certificate or degree that you are receiving tonight cannot be an ending.  Yes, you will continue to encounter bumps in the road, and you may not know what comes next.  But you are fighters, and you have prevailed hardships that very few in 21st century could have imagined. You are surviving a pandemic, and a pandemic so big that it not only shut down parts of our lives, but a pandemic that shut down the world for a time.  And yet here you are tonight as a member of the STCC Class of 2022.  How happy you must be, no more assignments, no more projects, no more zoom and no more exams… or is there?

What will the next chapter of your lives bring?  Will you go to work? Will you continue your education?  Will you serve your communities, your cities, your country?  With a degree from STCC you have the essential fundamental to be anything that you want – for you, and your family.  Starting tomorrow, make your next chapter as fulfilling as this chapter at STCC.  As shared, I am a Trustee at Westfield State University, the same institution where I earned not only my Bachelor’s degree, but also a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies.  Keep going … whether you continue your education at Westfield State – and they would love to have you … and make sure you tell them that Trustee Martinez-Alvarez invited you. … And let me know if I can be of assistance … but again, keep going.

Finally – I leave you with this:

There is a word used at times in education … Barrier … how many of you have heard that word before?  The literal definition is a circumstance or obstacle that keeps people or things apart, or prevents communication or progress.  But just as have I, you too have overcome so much, so… but don’t let BARRIERS get in your way. You have proven yourselves already – allow nothing to keep you from your future success and the commitment to yourself.

In the words of another of those people who could not be here tonight, Miley Cyrus reminds us – “forget the haters, ‘cause somebody loves ya.”


Thank you!