Albuquerque Academy’s first day of school began with seniors and sixth-graders marching up the main walkway together with parents cheering and clapping for the new and last-year students. Parents followed the students onto a large grassy area where everyone converged to listen to Head of School Julianne Puente give a convocation speech to a crowd of around 2,000.
Puente talked about the lessons learned from past mistakes while offering guidance to students, but it was Senate President Mireya Macías who got the crowd riled up with her fiery speech. Macías began by welcoming the new sixth-graders and reminding seniors that they belong to a community that is ready to embrace them. She then explained to the crowd that she had moved to Albuquerque from a small rural New Mexican town with her parents and sister in search of a better education.
Macías then broke into Spanish, explaining that her parents used to tell her, “La educacíon es lo único que nadie te puede quitar,” which translates to “education is the only thing that no one can take away from you.” She said her parents represented “a legion of first in their families,” explaining they were the first in her family to go to college, the first to go to medical school, the first to own a fridge, and the first to send their kid to private school.
She said Academy was much more than just an opportunity, but also a place to discover new people and new ideas. “But I also began to discover myself,” Macías said. “As a Latina, a Mexican American woman at the school, I’ve had to unlearn the erasure of my culture and femininity. I came to the school trying to please everyone and become who I thought my parents, my teachers and even my peers wanted me to be. Now, almost seven years later, I began the process of unbecoming. In the words of an anonymous poet, ‘The journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. It’s about unbecoming everything that isn’t you so you can be who you were meant to be.’”
Macías explained that Academy has helped her along the way, encouraging her to read “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros and in the process learning more about her own identity. Not that she hadn’t indulged in Latino culture growing up. “But for me, it was the first time someone who looked like me was a protagonist in a book I read for school. It wasn’t just my parents encouraging me to read it. It was also my teachers,” Macías said.
“Academy has provided me with a place to explore, define and reclaim my voice,” Macías continued. “I say that knowing we live in a state that is nearly 50% Latinx, and both our student and faculty body does not mirror that yet. Although I am proud to see our current administration making strides to ensure that BIPOC youth and faculty feel represented and supported, there needs to be more of a commitment to making our Academy community representative of both Albuquerque and New Mexico.”
After the applause, Macías continued, “If you take anything from my speech, remember this: Take the time to truly understand who you are. Not who your parents want you to be. Not who your teachers want you to be, but who you are and who you want to be. Once you begin understanding yourself, listen to your community and be an agent of change.”
And with that, the first day of school commenced.