Dominican-American delivers Harvard Undergraduate English Orator Commencement Speech

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Our thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.

“Just off the Orange Line”: Senior English Address

If you take the Red Line to Park Street, switch onto the Orange Line towards Forest Hills past the hustling vendors and the smell of fresh roasted peanuts toasting, and get off at the very last stop, you’ll end up there. No, not Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum, but instead the South Street Housing Development. Like Harvard, it is a place filled with dreamers, future changemakers, and aspiring artists; the only difference: opportunity.

So began the speech of Undergraduate English Orator Genesis Noelia De Los Santos Fragoso ’19, who was born in Jamaica Plain—the place she refers to in her speech—and moved to Dorchester at age 12. She knows firsthand how one opportunity can change the course of a life.

After her father was seriously injured in a car accident while in the Dominican Republic, she took on an outsized role within her family throughout his comas and surgeries. “People don’t believe this when I say it,” she said in a recent conversation, “but as an eight-year-old child, I was putting my mother to sleep.” Neighbors in her Jamaica Plain housing development chipped in, helping feed, clothe, and watch her family through dark times. Their support stuck with her. “It was on the playground of this concrete jungle that I learned what a home looked like,” she said in her speech.

Before her fifth-grade year, De Los Santos was offered a spot in the Steppingstone Academy, a program that prepares underserved students for acceptance and success at top independent, Catholic, and public exam schools in Greater Boston. After the 16-month program, she earned a spot at The Meadowbrook School, an independent school in suburban Weston. Used to being one of 30 kids in a classroom, she had arrived at a school with a student-faculty ratio of 7:1. After succeeding there, she attended the Noble and Greenough School, a private school in Dedham. Had it not been for the Steppingstone Program, she said, she doubts Harvard would have ended up on her radar. Her father, who had lived in the Boston area for more than 30 years, had never visited Harvard Square before his daughter’s move-in day.

At Harvard, De Los Santos, a history and literature concentrator in the ethnic-studies field (and resident of Eliot House), became interested in studying aspects of her identity, specifically her AfroLatinidad and Caribbean origins. Her extracurricular interests connected deeply with her academic ones: she was a co-chair of the Association of Black Harvard Women and president of Black CAST, a black student theater troupe, among other organizations. And she has looked for opportunities to give back to the communities from which she came. Since the summer after her freshman year, she’s worked for the admissions office’s Undergraduate Minority Recruitment Program, arranging on-campus and overnight visits for students who may not have thought of Harvard as a college option. After The Harvard Gazette profiled her, several students found her Instagram account and sent messages about how they didn’t know someone from a background like theirs could attend Harvard. De Los Santos, a fan of mentor relationships, reached out to many of them, answering their questions.

She knew she wanted people to think about how they would use their degrees for good, but said the process of competing for and then polishing her oration made her think more about her own future journey. She, too, had a burden on her shoulders: “What am I going to do with this degree now that I have it? How am I going to continue to impact my community?” She remembered, as a child, joking with her friends about people wearing Harvard hoodies who had no intention of going to any college, let alone Harvard. It was a fashion statement then, but for her, it’s now real. “Now, what will we do with what we have gained here?” her speech concluded. “I hope that as we answer this for ourselves, we lead not with our privilege, but instead work with a desire to create opportunities for others.”

As a recipient of the Trustman Fellowship, De Los Santos will spend next year in Senegal, learning about performance art and diaspora, and thinking about what will come next. Eventually, she sees herself becoming a teacher in Boston. She has never forgotten the teachers who believed in her. Some of them, she said, would be there to see her graduate.

Read her text here.

One thought on “Dominican-American delivers Harvard Undergraduate English Orator Commencement Speech

  1. She never had to grow up with hardships nor did she grow up in south street projects she spent a small amount of time from her life as a child but her dad bought a home in a middle class neighborhood of Dorchester she’s not 100% with her story this is another case of fake it till you make it story backed up by women empowerment. Everything about her struggling in life is a lie her whole life story is fabricated.

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