On August 24, 2018, AUSG President Valentina Fernandez delivered the following remarks to the Class of 2022 at their Convocation ceremony held in Bender Arena. 

Good morning Class of 2022! Welcome to Convocation!

I remember convocation as my favorite part of Welcome Week. You have your RAs, trustees, staff, and even the Clawed talon you touched on your way here cheering you on. That’s part of our tradition here at AU--we cheer each other on loud and proud.

I know people have been telling you what to do this entire morning, but please bear with me, as I continue to ask the same of you.

If you are sitting next to someone that lives on your floor, that you met during a Welcome Week event, or via social media prior to getting to campus, raise your hand.

Look around. That’s most of you. At first glance, that sounds great. You’re building friendships already.

But here’s the catch: you’re sitting next to these people because you feel comfortable. You have been on campus one week and you’ve already settled down. You’re actively choosing who you’re seated next to in an attempt to fit in, blend in, and not cause any disruption.

And while maybe getting a little comfortable during Welcome Week isn’t a bad thing, getting too comfortable at AU is a pitfall to avoid. Even all of us on this stage have done it at one point or another.

Let me share with you a quick story. When I was a first-year student and I arrived on campus as a Political Science major, I knew nothing about politics. I knew I wanted to make a difference, but I barely understood the difference between a Republican and a Democrat, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, or even what an internship was.

Naturally, I knew I had to work 3x harder than everyone around me just to be at the same speed. I studied a bit harder. I went out of my way to meet people. I tried my best -- not because I wanted to, but because I needed to. Looking back, I could have taken the time to breathe a little more. However, I still stand by my decision today.

For me, being uncomfortable has meant inserting myself in spaces where I was not invited. It was being the only person with my background in spaces both on and off campus to serve a larger purpose. It was having a shaky voice the first time I was actually asked what my opinion was. Sometimes it was even questioning whether the sacrifice of coming to college was worth the large void I created in my family by being distant. It even meant answering vulnerable and complex questions just to be here as your student body president.

But without being very uncomfortable at times, I would have never made the most of my time here. I would have never reached a level of difficulty but needed professional and personal growth. My path is not a one size fits all but here’s my take on what this could potentially mean and what you should consider during your 4 years.

First, being uncomfortable means knowing your worth. It means knowing that you have never tapped your full potential. When you are uncomfortable, you become a better version of yourself every day because you know there is opportunity for growth.

Second, being uncomfortable means knowing that not every decision is in your best interest. Sometimes you have to be brave. Walk away. Or Walk forward. Refuse to be complicit.

Third, being uncomfortable means not settling for mediocrity. This one is hard. Sometimes it’ll feel that everyone around you seems to be content in not growing, or defying the odds. Reach higher always.

Growing up, my mom always told me in Spanish, “Donde hay gana, hay maña.” This translates to “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” And anytime I wanted something and told my mom about how hard or uncomfortable it was-- she would remind me of this. Mom was right-- the only way to get what we desire is to have strong will. This only comes from reaching beyond us, looking ahead, dreaming big, and sometimes-- an uncomfortable journey.

And while everyone goes at their own pace, it’s all about the little steps that add up. Ask the hard questions. Talk to the people that you would never ordinary talk to. Start a movement. People and systems count on our ability to be comfortable to keep us where we are. Your comfortable silence serves no one. Not even yourself. Defy the odds. If you don’t, then who will?

So, Class of 2022-- here’s what I wish my freshman self would have known: never settle. Never lowers your expectations. Be uncomfortable. Welcome to our eagle family!