A student in a cap and gown speaks at a podium at JHU Commencement.

Credit: Will Kirk / Johns Hopkins University

Commencement 2024

Student speaker to classmates: 'I already see legacies everywhere'

In remarks to the Class of 2024, senior Kristen Corlay Sanmiguel encourages graduates to embrace uncertainty, make an impact

Remarks as delivered by Johns Hopkins University senior Kristen Corlay Sanmiguel at the universitywide Commencement ceremony on May 23, 2024.

Congratulations to our honorary degree recipients!

My name is Kristen Corlay Sanmiguel, and I would like to thank my classmates for giving me the honor of speaking today.

At these events, we're used to people telling us how our generation will make history. While this is meant to inspire us, as I stand here with my cap and gown, I can't help but feel an enormous amount of pressure.

So, I ask: What does it even mean to make history? Do you need to be on the cover of Time magazine?

And honestly, "making history" isn't always what you expect. For instance, I thought I would remember March 13th as the joyous day I got into JHU. But that was March 2020 ... and I think we all remember what that was like. That's the thing about life, you don't know how the story goes, anything can happen.

Video credit: Johns Hopkins University

Growing up with the internet has made our generation all too familiar with the world's uncertainty. You can go to bed one night worrying about a problem set and wake up the next day to the devastating news of the Baltimore bridge collapse, hurricanes in Mexico, or the photo of a mother hugging her child for the last time in the rubble of a hospital in Gaza.

It can start to feel hopeless. But I've also found music, resiliency, and community. We must recognize that attending university is an opportunity many others have unjustly lost or never even had.

While graduating today is an enormous achievement, I know that as JHU students we tend to put unrealistic standards on ourselves. Let's see—have 50 publications, a Nobel prize, and an Oscar, all by 25, right?

The truth is, we will never know everyone's names throughout history. However, the people who truly make an impact don't do it to be in some textbook. They do it because they believe in what they do. They speak out for a teammate, share an original song, or take a protest sign and march to city hall.

A student in a graduation cap and gown waves happily with both hands.
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I know what it's like to feel as if you're running out of time to "make your mark" in this world. But I can promise you that I already see legacies everywhere—they live in kitchen table scuff marks, spoken word poems, and life-changing 2 a.m. conversations.

Classmates, remember that time is relative. I hope we feel young while dancing to 2010s music at some alumni tent party. But I equally hope we feel really old when we see future generations lead the clubs we were a part of.

So, I'm not going to close by asking you to make history, because that's going to look different for each and every one of us, Time magazine included, or not. However, I will ask you to tell people you love them, because you never know when it's going to be last, to stop and look at flowers and hummingbirds, and most importantly, remember that we might be the "new generation," but we are not the last generation. So when they come to us and share their vision for the world, let's build it together.

Class of 2024, I wish you a beautiful, purposeful, and eclectic life. ¡Muchas felicidades, lo hicimos!

Congratulations, we did it!