On a warm spring Friday kicking off Commencement weekend, a group of Notre Dame graduates walked the stage of Bond Hall auditorium to give brief speeches about the Latino Studies program and receive what for most was their first diploma of the weekend.
All in all, twelve majors and fourteen minors from the class of 2023 were honored at the ceremony. Among them were two undergraduate students who, in early May, had publicly presented their dissertations in a joint lecture entitled “Exploring Transnationalism, Network Formation, and Gender through Storytelling.” And four of the graduates are Latino Studies merit scholars (LSSP), including two fifth-year students who spoke about overcoming barriers to finishing their degrees with the guidance of ILS administrative leaders. Additionally, this graduating class was marked by the global COID-19 pandemic, which started in what for most was spring of their freshman year.
By coming away with a degree in Latino Studies, the graduates were taking a monumental step in their formation as virtuous individuals working for the common good, said Dr. Luis Fraga, director of the Institute for Latino Studies.
“It shows that you have a commitment to build a country and world where all voices, interests and peoples are included and thrive,’ he said in his address to the students. “Build the country you would be proud to leave to your children and grandchildren. Leave a country that is worthy of the sacrifices made by our parents, grandparents, and other ancestors who dreamed that one day you would be a college graduate. That is within the best traditions and highest ideals of Notre Dame.”
Since the curricular program was established twenty years ago, the number of majors and minors has reached record highs, with about 95 students enrolled in the academic program this past year. For AY 2022-23, around 700 students a semester took a cross-listed course. In the last decade, the number of cross-listed Latino Studies courses has approximately tripled, numbering close to thirty for spring and fall, respectively. The upcoming fall slate of courses is at 41.
Though most of the courses offered are in the social sciences and humanities, many of the 36 faculty fellows affiliated with ILS are in STEM fields. At the ceremony, seven faculty fellows sat across the far side of the podium in full regalia, while students observed decorum by wearing a cap and gown. Bond Hall auditorium was at capacity, with approximately 200 people in the hall.
Long-term serving academic director Karen Richmond was one of two presenters for the evening program. Her partner in steering the ceremony was associate director Paloma Garcia-Lopez, who took the opportunity to highlight her offices recognition from the university in diversity, equity, and inclusion.
She also invoked Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers movement early in the ceremony with a prayer.
Both women underscored the academic courses offered by the ILS, as well as the internship opportunities provided through the Cross-Cultural Leadership Program (CCLP).
“Each of your rose to the academic, personal and community challenges of this moment to complete degrees in Latino Studies and your other majors and minors,” Richman said. “Congratulations to all of you.”
Each student gave their brief speech, reprinted in booklet form for attendees, then took a picture with Garcia-Lopez and Richman on stage. The excitement of family and friends in the crowd was especially palpable towards the end, when a woman in the first row of spectators shouted “¡Que viva los Latinos!” and several others followed her cue with their own cries of support as the students posed for a group picture at the front of the lecture hall.
Many of the students connected study abroad experiences in Puebla, Mexico, to their decision to major or minor in Latino Studies. Others gave a shout-out to specific professors or courses for igniting their interest in the academic program.
Gisselle Alexandra Garcia, a LSSP scholar who majored in Biological Sciences and minored in Latino Studies, shared with the audience how her time with ILS is preparing her for a career in medicine, including plans to go to medical school in the fall. During her speech, she shared various turning points in her academic career thanks to ILS, including an internship with the Stroke Program at Memorial Hospital of South Bend.
“The enrichment was two-fold: I gained first-hand experience from physicians with a range of specialties and I engaged in community education with stroke awareness for children and adults alike,” she said. “It showed me that to uplift our communities, we must be the leaders spearheading that change.”
After the ceremony, the graduates and their guests went up to the ILS lounge for a catered dinner from a local-area Mexican restaurant. Following organization tradition, attendees were treated to cake as well.
For more information about our academic program, please contact Karen Richman.