Meet Jordan High School‘s 2021 inspirational speaker, Pilar Diaz, who will be attending the University of California, Los Angeles in the fall. Read the transcript of her graduation speech below, where she shares how excited she was to receive her U.S. Citizenship the day before her graduation.

Pilar Diaz was one of the commencement speakers for the Class of 2021 at Jordan High School.

(Graduation speech delivered at Jordan High School on June 9, 2021)

Thank you to the students, teachers, parents, and staff who made these four years everything that they were. J.K. Rowling once said, “We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.” Class of 2021 has been through many adversities this year but here we are now celebrating our achievements; away from our computer screens, thankfully. It is my pleasure today to deliver the commencement address for this unique student body.

I remember being so careless about school in the ninth grade. Although I strove for good grades, it was really only ever for approval; so that I wouldn’t be “a disappointment.” That was my greatest mistake: making myself miserable in order for society to accept me. I’ve realized in the years since that it is especially unrealistic to say that you can do it all on your own and feel euphoric at the end of the day. As humans, we shouldn’t depend solely on others for our happiness–but we can surely experience that feeling with loved ones by our side.

As I stand here, a proud soon-to-be high school graduate, I’m even more excited to be spending the next four years of my life at UCLA. I never thought that I, an immigrant, would be up here right now sharing my story and my gratitude. I came to the United States from Havana, Cuba, when I was four years old and it fills me with joy to say that I became an American citizen yesterday. God knows how hard I worked to get where I am now and how accomplished I feel.

I have always valued the profession that is being a teacher. I want to take this time to thank Ms. Cibulsky. Thank you for sitting down with me and listening to me speak about my struggles and frustrations. Thank you for being so understanding about my mental battles and why I couldn’t always be completely there. Thank you for providing me with a safe space to express myself and thank you for serving as a maternal role in my life. I will definitely miss hearing you say “I beg your pardon.” I also want to thank Ms. Serfozo and Ms. Melgar for helping me enhance my passion for history, and Ms. Bautista and Mr. Arechiga for being the only teachers to get me to like math. A huge thank you to Captain McDonald, Sergeant Warren, Ms. Sosa, and Mr. Myers for continuously helping me become a more confident person. And I definitely want to say thank you to Ms. Garcia and Ms. Ponce for showing me that Spanish is more than just a language, it’s a culture and a way of living.

My mom inspires my heart to love people even when they prove to me why I shouldn’t. She has the biggest soul I’ve ever known. She has taught me to hold on even when it seems impossible to do so. My brother is my other half. We weren’t very close when we were both younger, but our struggles have brought us to where we are now in terms of love for each other. I’ve seen my brother give up on himself; never have I ever experienced greater heartbreak than that. I thank God every single day that passes for helping him and allowing him to find himself and his happiness. When one man broke both of us, he stepped in to replace that spot in our lives, and I will never stop thanking him for raising me the way our father never did. What didn’t kill us made us stronger and I hold dear to my heart that strength that was given to me by my mother.

This is the part where I might otherwise take a moment to thank myself–but appreciating myself is something that I have never felt able to do. My insecurities and anxieties have always told me that I am not good enough for other people and for this world and that I just don’t belong here. I’ve always had a very hard time loving or being kind to myself. I hope that I can one day learn to love the woman that I see in the mirror. I hope that I will one day understand that my trauma does not define me, and it does not define you either. With that in mind, I want to highlight a very special person in my life. This person has always been there for me and has taught me to appreciate myself since the day we met, the first day of freshman year. From friends, to best friends, to each other’s person–thank you so much, Said Duran. I love that we can eat peach rings and share a Dr. Pepper while talking about life. I love that we can watch Criminal Minds for hours on end and I love that we both still feel that 5th grade excitement when we see each other. You’re my better half and I will always love you.

There comes a time in all of our lives where we look back and realize all that we’ve done. And for us, that time is now. This is the time where we can metally replay all four years that we’ve spent in high school and re-experience every moment whether it was an ecstatic one, or a disappointing one. Our senior year was stripped from us but our power to change the world will forever be in our hands. Our abilities and potentials will get us places far beyond the human mind because we are the leaders of the future that is to come. Your life is what you make it and things are just things, they don’t make you who you are. We did it, Class of 2021. Thank you.