Welcome the Fear of the Unknown: A Speech by Graduating Senior Yoen Gustavo Pedraza

Photo by Vasily Koloda on Unsplash

By Yoen Gustavo Pedraza 

Hello UMass Amherst Class of 2023, 

If I were to ask you what your deepest fears were, what would you say? Failing? Death? Public Speaking? Our deepest fears revolve around our greatest insecurities and the fear that we’ll revel in our inadequacies. We want to envision ourselves as a statue of greatness, with the strength and fearlessness like the ancient Roman Hero Hercules, with the determination and work ethic of the late Kobe Bryant and his Mamba Mentality, with the applause and global name recognition of The Beatles.

We want legacies that’ll exceed our lives. Oftentimes we get so caught up in this vision of this glorious statue we’ll sculpt of ourselves that we forget to remember that that statue was once only a random stone that took years to forge. 

As humans, we have the tendency to gloss over the fact that behind every great person, there are years of pain, frustration, and fatigue alongside other struggles that are out of our control such as circumstances and challenges that come with just existing. COVID-19 had turned the world upside down and brought many of us to our knees as it disrupted integral years of college experience that were necessary to our personal and ideological development.

The pandemic had posed the biggest hurdle many of us had to face as even now we are trying to pick up the pieces. But even now, we haven’t given up. Despite the fear, it had instilled in many of us. We haven’t given up. Because even through life’s greatest disparities, something we all have in common is that as humans our perseverance will continue to shine forth.

We’re all here in this stadium because we continued to persevere through not only the normal grievances that come with college but the pandemic as well. 

Is our perseverance innate or is there another source? I believe this light doesn’t come from our own spirit but the spirit of others. Every single one of us here, dressed in our cap and gowns, isn’t here on just solely on our own capabilities. We’ve had help. We’ve had friends, family, teachers, mentors. We have a community. We all have had people stand behind us doing their best to keep our heads up when we felt like the world was coming down on us. Whether they are with us here today or only in spirit, we’re here because of them.

University isn’t an easy path to choose; it often reveals truths about ourselves that we don’t want to face, however, our struggles and defeats can only highlight greatness. It’s why we choose to continue to shine. No one great ever became that way without first feeling fear and then deciding to invite the fear in. 

So I ask again, what are your deepest fears? When I used to ask that question, I used to be afraid to answer, I didn’t want to feel weak. However, when I ask that question now, I look for an answer so I may shine a light on it. As humans, we’ve proven to ourselves time and time again that our deepest fear will become our greatest strength.

Although at this point in my life, I feel good, it was all because of the things in life I had to endure. Marianne Williamson once wrote “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. There is a light within every one of us if we so choose to acknowledge it. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” We faced our greatest fear, the uncertainty of college and finishing our degree after the pandemic, and now we must face the real world.

We must face the fear of the unknown. As we leave today, remember that your fear doesn’t impair you, it’s your greatest asset. Remember that you are not alone. Too many people have had a hand in our successes and seen our hardships for you all to feel that you must take the future on its head by yourself. Trust in your people. Because even someone as heroic as Hercules had Chiron to train him to become a legend of heroism.

Because even someone as hardworking as Kobe Bryant had someone like Phil Jackson to coach him to become the champion he is known as today. And even the Beatles needed each other to cement themselves as kings of stardom. So while we all continue on our paths to greatness, remember that you aren’t here because of luck or by chance. You are here today at graduation because you’ve endured, you’ve resisted, and you’ve conquered. Remember this as you sculpt your great statue, as you leave today’s stepping stone and move on to the next.

My parting words to you, to the UMass Amherst Class of 2023, is to be fearful of what the future holds beyond our college town and to be excited because of it. I want you to invite your fear in. The future has yet to be written. The future is our greatest fear and because of this, the future is our greatest strength. Shine on.

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