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Undergraduate Commencement Speaker: Yessica Rodriguez

Yessica Rodriguez Commencement Speaker

December 17, 2020

Yessica Rodriguez, a McNair Scholar, was chosen as the undergraduate speaker for the Fall 2020 Virtual Commencement Ceremony and she delivered her speech this past weekend. Yessica is a brilliant young woman who earned a B.S. in Biological Sciences with a Pre-Health emphasis, as well as two minors in Sociology and Chemistry. Yessica has a bright academic future and plans to apply to medical school to pursue a career as a pediatric pulmonologist.

This was Yessica's experience of being the undergraduate speaker in her own words:

What was the experience like for you? Did you ever imagine you would be the undergraduate speaker at your commencement ceremony?

I remember when I received the email asking if I wanted to do this. I saw the notification pop up on my phone and then I had to double-check it on my computer to make sure it was legit. I remember seeing a link in one of the UNC Today emails about applying to be a graduation speaker and writing down the email of who to contact because it seemed like something I would consider doing. I spoke at my elementary school graduation briefly, reciting a speech about the importance of sunscreen as a metaphor at my middle school graduation, speaking and creating a school-related rap at high-school, but never imagined I would get to speak again in college. It was such an incredible experience that allowed me to use the platform to be authentically me, but also give a speech that did not seem like I was reading off a teleprompter (although I totally was). I have always credited myself to be a quiet person that has accidentally ended up where she needs to be, and so this seemed like one of those moments. However, in my remaining time as an undergraduate, I learned that nothing has been an accident, but rather a discovery of an opportunity I meant to have in part of my journey to know my potential. I look back at the young girl that spoke at each school graduation and reflect on the growth through each one.

What will you remember most about the ceremony and what was your favorite part?

I will remember that although my speech was given in an empty room with no audience, even it reflected on what the year of 2020 was -- different. It was different and not normal, but regardless, it was still achievable and still memorable. Its broadcast and platform were not the way we intended, but still a great way to reflect on a time where we overcame so many things in our lives. My favorite part was being able to be myself within the speech, but still in a professional way that could relate to anyone watching. Although I did highlight my identities, I wanted to write a speech that anyone could relate to and be able to look back on their undergraduate experience.

What would you say was the main takeaway of the message you delivered?

I hope the biggest takeaway people can remember from the speech is that our resiliency in the most unpredictable year of our education paid off. We had to readjust ourselves so many times in so many ways, yet we still managed to get our degree and see the success from the other side. Sure, it was not in a traditional sense, but it will be one of the most memorable times of our lives. We persevered, nos puzimos las pilas, and we really did it. And always remember to "own your power!"