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Seniors choose Sonya Rifkin as Commencement speaker

Senior class speaker Sonya Rifkin receives her graduation sash and diploma. (Campanil Staff)

Senior Sonya Rifkin was chosen to represent her senior class as a speaker for the 2010 Commencement ceremony. Rifkin, who graduated May 15 as an Urban Studies major, was voted on by her fellow classmates last month.

“I am really excited. I really like public speaking more than anything. I am honored that my classmates like this speech and they voted for it,” said Rifkin, who will be returning next fall to pursue her Masters in Public Policy at Mills. “It makes me feel more confident that I am saying what they want to hear and that I am saying something that will resonate with a number of my peers.”

Rifkin’s address centers on embracing the time of unknown that happens when one period of a person’s life ends and a new one will begin, and believing that each graduate will chart her own unique path to success.

ASMC Senior Class Adviser Mandy Benson said she was impressed by Rifkin’s speech at the Junior/Senior Celebration, the event during which potential senior speakers presented their speeches before those assembled.

“I was really excited that the seniors selected her speech because I love that she wove the plot of our lives [as seniors] into her story,” she said. “She talked about how we get to create a future that we all want to live in.”

Rifkin said she was both nervous and excited about her speech and couldn’t wait to see all her fellow peers on graduation day.

“I’m excited to have all my family from out of town for graduation. I’m really excited to see everyone that I have been working with for four years with faculty and students getting together in the sun,” she said. Her advice for graduating seniors? “To have a little faith in yourselves and not be afraid to take a new path that comes our way, especially if we think it is the right one,” Rifkin said.

Sonya Rifkin As Commencement Speaker | Mills College from The Campanil on Youtube.

For a transcript of Rifkin’s speech, see below:

Graduates, families, faculty, staff, alumnae, President Holmgren and Madam Speaker:

May 2010 sounded pretty futuristic until…today. 2010 sounded like a year in the movies, you know: cars you can plug in, a mixed race black president, a nearly dystopic state of world affairs, a world without Michael Jackson — and yet, here we are, throttled into the future, our future, graduating from college amidst these fantastical plotlines. Thankfully, here at Mills, we like to think of this Orwellian story as a choose-your-own ending kind of adventure.

The scene opens. We find our crew of main characters adrift in a sea of papers, shamefully unstapled and without page numbers or proper citations. It is a nightmare scene. Blue Craigslist hypertext flashes one job listing after another. The text reads, “We’re hiring!” and “Bachelor’s degree required!” and then all at once, the links evaporate, only to rain down on our weary characters in the form of unemployment checks! We wake up and find ourselves on a meadow in May, squinting into the sun and lost in time.

Sometimes, perhaps right now, it seems that even George Orwell and Octavia Butler couldn’t have put their minds together to make up 2010. But here we are! The future is, apparently, here.

Thankfully, the Mills motto has something to clue us in about where exactly “here” is. The motto reads: One destination, many paths. So, dear Mills people, maybe that’s where we are: maybe we have reached our destination.

OK, hold on. We’ve taken our many paths, we can check that one off, but I’m not so sure about the “destination” part, about having arrived. I would bet that for most of you, myself included, the motto, at least today, is something more like, “Uh, now what?”

This, friends, is what it feels like to be on the edge of something. On the edge of what it means to be at a women’s college in 2010, twenty years after students went on strike to protest the Board’s vote to go co-ed, and they won; what it means to have a college degree when the world seems to be turning upside down. On the edge of change—this may well be our destination, inevitable and coming fast. So…great. I’m sure you’re thrilled to be reminded that we’re in limbo as we sit here, but I see it differently.

The edge is more than a point of departure; it’s a place to remain and test boundaries, and to realize the legacies we leave for Mills students to come. While we’ve been here, we have spoken out alongside our classmates for more transparency in the college, and substantive support for diversity among staff and students; we’ve challenged Mills to become an even more supportive environment for parenting students and their kids; and to widen the many paths through Mills to reflect our experiences and potentials as queer and transgender students.

We leave them the Women’s Health Resource Center so they may raise it to new heights; we leave them efforts to negotiate between our campus walls and the city of Oakland which we call home; and above all, we leave them the ever-expanding idea of who we are when we are at Mills, and who we are when we leave.

And within our other, global world, today’s place in limbo represents a moment to stop and think—once the relief and exhaustion wear off—about what just happened, and what power we have in our hands to make something happen tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. Translating those countless hours of lectures and reading and all-nighters, into a destination will take more than today, and so we can choose to embrace the feeling of flight, of limbo, of the unknown.

Graduation speeches, at this point, tend to touch on the poignant topic of classmate camaraderie. We’re a pretty motley crew, as is the quirky Mills way, but as we prepare to move on from sunny days sprawled on Toyon Meadow, or naps on the floor of the science computer lab, we are doing so in outstanding company. As we sit here, asking “now what,” we might shore up a little confidence about where we are and will be, from the company we keep.

Mills graduating class of 2010, we are poets and athletes and budding economists; we are parents, and we are undocumented students; we’re the first generation in our family to go to college, or the third to be here at Mills. We are community organizers, leaders, and peer educators; from Oakland to New York, from places others among us have never heard of, and we are going places no one but us could have dreamed up. Class of 2010, enjoy the possibilities of destinations unknown, and report back from the future whenever you may get there.