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Class of 2013 | Student Speaker Karen Gordon’s Speech

Karen Gordon was chosen by her fellow peers to be the Student Speaker at the 125th Mills College Commencement on Saturday, May 18.

For a more in-depth feature story about Gordon, read it here.

Her speech has been republished with permission.

Karen Gordon gives her Commencement speech as the Student Speaker. (Photo by Melodie Miu)
Karen Gordon gives her Commencement speech as the Student Speaker. (Photo by Melodie Miu)

In the summer of 2010, I discovered Mills’ beautiful campus, quite by accident, and ended up applying as a transfer student.

Earlier that same year, my brother had died of cancer. I was privileged to spend the last four weeks of his life caring for him. We had not been so close since we were children. My brother was my contemporary and one of my best friends. We shared a life.

We here at Mills share a life. Whether you know all the names of your classmates, whether you live on or off campus, and whether you are seventeen or sixty years old – we share a life here at Mills. Mills may be an oasis of beauty and education, but it is not an island. As a college dedicated to social justice and diversity, we must be active in our whole community and care about the lives of people on the other side of our gate as much those here on campus.

Mills is a place to discover who you are and who you imagine yourself to be: a place for entrepreneurs to develop skills necessary to realize their dreams; a laboratory for scientists and artists of all disciplines to experiment with new forms in their given media; and a forum to address questions of societal fairness and equity. At Mills College, I have learned as much from my brilliant classmates as I have from my dedicated professors. We each teach and learn from one another. My radio professor, Holly Kernan, reminds her student reporters that we are guests as we go out into the community.

Looking for untold stories to give a voice to people who may not otherwise be heard, we ask “what would you like to tell us about your life.” People have much to say if we are willing to listen. Mills is part of Oakland, a complex city that includes many cultures which inform and enrich our lives.

I moved to Oakland over thirty years ago, and my college plans were quite nebulous then. I continued to study at community colleges, eager to learn, and hoping to graduate one day. Some of us are constantly searching, exploring, looking for direction. Some have come to Mills with specific goals and ideas in place. And some are compelled, as I was, by a life-changing event that makes it impossible to ignore our own desires. We care for our parents, our children, our friends, and often must put our own dreams on hold. That final month with my brother is precious to me. I learned that life is unpredictable and fragile. I could not wait any longer for my dreams and desires. I had to make a leap of faith and finish college, no matter what.

As we graduate today, our class of 2013 has dreams and desires that cannot wait. Our ideas and projects can impact the world in positive and profound ways, and we can do this with conscious grace and caring. Together and individually, we can give back some of the gifts we have received here at Mills.