Beatriz Trejo, Chain | Cohn | Stiles workers’ compensation attorney, was recently honored to deliver the keynote speech at the CSU Bakersfield “Chicano Commencement Celebration” held May 14 at the Icardo Center.
Trejo earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from Cal State Bakersfield and her master’s degree in political science from Cal State Northridge. She returned to Bakersfield after earning her law degree from the University of Akron School of Law in Ohio.
She is currently the president of the California Applicants’ Attorneys Association, Bakersfield Chapter. She also supports local programs focused on advancing Latinos and Latinas in Kern County, including Latina Leaders of Kern County and the Kern County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Academy. Recently, she was selected as the 2017 winner of the “Young Workers’ Compensation Lawyer of the Year” by the State Bar Workers’ Compensation Section.
CSUB celebrated its first “Chicano Commencement Celebration” in the spring of 1980.
“It is a celebration of the Latino struggle in higher education and of growing academic success of all underrepresented communities,” said Dr. Thomás Martinez, professor of public administration at CSUB.
Trejo delivered the speech in front of more than 200 graduates, and over 3,500 in attendance. Her complete speech is below:
Primero que nada, le quiero desear un muy feliz Dia de las Madres a todas las madres presentes, incluyendo a la mía quien es esta aquí hoy. A las que apoyaron as sus graduados y a las que hoy celebran su propia graduación.
I’d like to thank Omar Correa, the Chicano commencement planning committee, and Cal State Bakersfield for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today. This is a tremendous honor.
By now you’ve heard it from your family, faculty, significant others, SnapChat and Instagram friends, but I will say it again: Congratulations — #TurnUp.
For those of you that don’t know me, and haven’t had a chance to google me, I am an attorney here in Bakersfield who sat in your seat 14 years ago. I am like you from the future. I really doubt google says that last part.
I was informed by the commencement committee that there are 215 graduates in attendance today and we have over 3,500 people in the audience. That means each of you brought an average of 16 guests.
Let’s think about that for a minute. That means that only half of your cousins got tickets.
But seriously, this means that each and every one of you has an entire community that not only supports you but is proud and wants to see you succeed. As Latino college graduates You have beaten the odds. You fought and struggled and today you celebrate this great accomplishment. You beat the odds that were stacked against you when it came to high school graduation rates, college enrollment, retention, and now graduation.
You as educated Latinos you now carry all of our hopes and dreams for this community, mine included. Your success reflects on all of us. Our hope is that you will bring about change, change here in Bakersfield and our communities and neighborhoods.
Whether you like it or not, you will now be held to a higher standard than others. I don’t think this is news to anyone here. For the Latina women here today, this goes double for you.
I have a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, a juris doctorate’s degree, three years of experience working in higher education, and five years as an attorney, yet not a week goes by that I am not mistaken for a secretary or an interpreter. Please don’t misunderstand me for these are perfectly fine professions, but not once has anyone assumed that I was the managing partner of my firm.
A while back, I was at a mediation with two senior partners. Once we reached a settlement, we all sat down together and I began reviewing the terms of the agreement, to which I told our opposing counsel that there were terms in the document we would not agree to. With a look of dismay, he turned to my boss and asked ‘is this your paralegal?’ After I explained to him my role he agreed to our proposed changes. I think this was more shocking to my boss than it was to me. Unfortunately, I see this much too often. The challenge for me that day was balancing professional decorum and civility with pride and ego.
You too will have those challenging days, days when someone will challenge your ability not based on your performance but based on what you look like. It is the hard days the days that challenge you to very core that will determine who you are; your character will be defined not just by what you achieve but also by how you react in the face of that challenge.
Our lives are shaped by the cutting edge of our experiences. I want you to keep this in mind, your struggles and challenges have made you a better candidate for success.
Fourteen years ago while sitting where you are sitting now I had a plan, I knew exactly what my life would be both in my personal life and in my professional life. I cannot tell you how happy I am that those plans failed. I would not be speaking to you today had those plans came to fruition.
About a decade ago I was living in L.A., freshly introduced to the world of student debt working a job that was not very challenging; needless to say, I was very frustrated with this situation. I assumed right after graduating with a master’s degree, doors would open and I would find the career of my dreams. This did not happen. I took this as a failure on my part. This is when I learned the piece of advice I want to pass on to you – there is no such thing as a failure, only a change of plans.
To give you an example: I know there are some of you that perhaps failed a class in your time here at Cal State, but you did not allow that failure to be an option, you kept going. You took the class again, you changed majors, or you were able to compensate with other classes. But for you failure was not an option, you simply had a change of plans.
As for me, I took my career failure and began to look into other careers. Somehow, I got the brilliant idea that I could go to law school because frankly, I didn’t know any better.
I enrolled at the University of Akron school of law in northeast Ohio. I was one of only three Latinos in the entire entering class. There were so few minorities at this school that the Asians and Latinos had to unite in order to have enough students for a student club, so we had the Asian-Latino law student association. Not only that, but there were no good Mexican restaurants in Akron, Ohio and it snowed 5 months out of the year.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Ohio. But if someone would have told me on the day I graduated from Cal State Bakersfield that five years later I would be in Ohio, unemployed, and digging my car out the snow in order to make it to class, I would have said, ‘You have the wrong person.”
The same goes for you. Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans and by no means should a change in plans be considered a failure.
Having a plan is great, but just know that you will likely have several changes of plan throughout your life, but each change of direction is only getting you closer to where you need to be. Where you are needed and where you can provide the most benefit to those around you.
And as you start your journey into the post-grad era of your life remember that your path will be unique and there is no point in comparing your path to others. With social media it is so easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others or creating an alternate version of your life for others. In the end no one cares what you had for lunch and anyone that knows you, knows that you are not that pretty without a filter. #Truth True identity is not found in any app in your phone. Your identity is something that you are constantly earning; it is an ongoing and ever evolving process.
So for those of you graduating with a plan, good for you, you are on the right track, and for those of you graduating without a plan, good for you, you are on the right track. Remember that this is a world of infinite possibilities. Do not feel that your next step is the most important step you’ll ever take. It’s not. It is simply another step in the evolution of you.
Do not feel rushed to feel that sense of accomplishment. It took me 14 years and in invitation to speak at the Chicano commencement before I realized that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
Los planes son geniales pero las metas son mejores. Plans are great, but goals are better.
A goal is not nearly as rigid as a plan. Your goal could simply be to help others, or to provide for you family. The path that your goals will take you, will be ever changing. No matter what goal you set for yourself today I can honestly tell you that achieving a goal will not come without hard work.
When I was in law school a professor shared this piece of advice that has stuck with me throughout the years. He said, ‘throughout your career you will encounter opposing counsel that will be smarter than you, more experienced than you, and with more resources than you, but they will not outwork you. That’s the part that you control.’
We cannot control our background, we cannot control our upbringing, we cannot control our gender, or race, or the state of the economy, we cannot control the cards we were dealt, but we can control how hard we work to achieve our goals.
We can control how late we stay and how early we arrive. We know that we cannot knock on doors and climb the ladder of success with our hands in our pockets. Most of us learned our work ethic from our parents. Before all the graduation celebrations are over make sure to thank your parents and those who supported you for their hard work and sacrifice.
Así de duro como han trabajado para llegar aquí hoy, ellos han trabajado más duro para darles la oportunidad de estar aquí hoy. As hard as you have worked to get here today, they have worked harder to give you the opportunity to be here today.
Make sure to thank that entire community that is here for you, even the ones that didn’t get a ticket are happy and proud of you.
In fact, let’s thank them right now. Can I get all of the graduates to stand up for moment? OK, I want you to turn to the audience and give them a round of applause.
Class of 2017, as you leave here today, I would like for you to continue to think of Cal State Bakersfield as your home. This university has now been my home for over a decade. In fact, I continue to attend alumni events. Just a few days ago, I attended the Spring barbecue. In 2011, I studied for the bar exam on the third floor of the library. I left a pink sweater there that hopefully is still in lost and found. The point being is that this university is also part of your community of support.
In conclusion, I leave you with the following thought. The poet, Omar Kyaam, once said, “Not one returns to tell us of the road, which to discover we must travel ourselves.” I have returned to tell you that your road to self-discovery is just beginning. Embrace the journey ahead.
Enjoy your commencement festivities, you have earned every minute. Felicidades