A rapt audience of about 12,000 Santa Clara University graduating seniors and their family and friends was treated to a sweeping, inclusive, and dramatic poem from the nation’s poet laureate Saturday. The address touched on the forces of climate change, refugees, and conflict, and urged the more than 1,200 graduates to “carry/a satchel of compassion-action for all” and “bring down the walls with your heart on fire/and mind expanding with tenderness.”

“How many bowls of water will you offer/to those living in fear of deportation/in fear of bullying and bullets, in fear of detention/in fear of the forced abandonment of their children/what/will you offer, yes/you/to the ocean and skies?” said U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, speaking at the 8:30 a.m. ceremony at Buck Shaw Field in Stevens Stadium. “What will you say as/you grasp the smoke of bombs, the smoke of billions/the wings and fish and fins flashing in razor nets down below?”

“You will reach for/a bowl of water, a loaf of bread and speak with/the voice of a mother, a son, a daughter, a father/long gone, now grown and love, yes love will come/over your face and you will act and you yes/you will stand and you will bring about peace/food, change, water, unity, meaning, a place to exist.” 

Before he shared his commencement poem, Herrera received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree, with Santa Clara University emeritus Prof. Francisco Jimenez noting “your life and work are profound expressions that call for the  inclusion of those who are in the margins of society.”

Valedictorian Erika Francks, an environmental studies major and management information systems minor, who was both a Global Fellow and Global Social Benefit Fellow, spoke to her peers about becoming a “person of value,” rather than a pursuer of success.

“I’ve watched you travel to build sustainable houses in Nepal and build tiny houses at home,” she said. “I’ve seen you spend countless hours at Washington Elementary School, working to establish programs to ensure students there can see the path to college. And I’ve stood alongside you as you planned and participated in walks of solidarity, marches, and protests to give voice and support to fellow students at times when their futures may have felt uncertain.

“To me, this doesn’t sound like a generation that can’t commit,” she said. “This doesn’t sound like a generation that doesn’t care about anyone but themselves. Together, we can change the narrative that surrounds our millennial generation.”

 Full story at Santa Clara University website.