Isabela Tasende: 2024 Valedictory Address

Author: Brandi Wampler

Esteemed guests, distinguished faculty and staff, friends and loved ones, bienvenidos! Welcome to the University of Notre Dame's 2024 graduation ceremony.

Fellow graduates, it is an honor and a privilege to share this moment with you. Today, we celebrate the end of our time at Our Lady's University. Yet this ceremony is not just one of graduation, but of commencement. It marks both an end and a beginning. So, as we reminisce on the roads we have traveled and welcome those that lie ahead, I want to start with a thank you: Class of 2024, thank you for giving me hope.

 When I boarded my first flight to Notre Dame after nine long months in lockdown, I was nervous about entering this new environment. I had done my research, and so I knew two very important statistics: one, temperatures routinely dip below 70° in South Bend, and two, a majority of our student body played varsity sports in high school—neither of which, I, a Panamanian theater kid, felt equipped to deal with. Yet as I adapted to this new space, I quickly realized the most pivotal lessons Notre Dame had to offer revolved not just around academics, but on finding the courage to have hope amid hardship. Today, I wish to share three of these with you: Hope is not passive. Hope is not naive. And most surprisingly, hope comes not just from our successes against injustice, but from the love we share and the communities we build along the way.

First, hope is not passive. Rather, it calls us to act—to find the courage to put learning at the service of justice. If our time at Notre Dame is any indication, every one of us has the potential for greatness. Today, let us celebrate all our class has achieved to give us hope for a brighter future. Let's celebrate Lucas Barreto, whose fervent commitment to environment-centered design led him to secure dependable and sustainable energy sources for his community in Puerto Rico. Let's celebrate Luzolo Matundu, who through her participation in initiatives like Walk the Walk sought to protect the dignity of every student on this campus, regardless of their background. Let's celebrate Luke Linder, whose hard work and dedication led him to become a two-time national champion in fencing, upholding a legacy of excellence for Notre Dame Athletics. From leadership boards to D1 sports, in research and scholarship, we've continually stretched the boundaries of what we thought possible.

With incredible faculty, facilities, and labs, Our Lady has supported our pursuit of these achievements. The inauguration of the University's Democracy Initiative further reminds us of its commitment to empower us to tackle pressing global issues. And as a member of the Class of 2024, I am proud to say that we have not taken these opportunities for granted. Rather, we have worked hard to make the best out of every program and club this institution offers, dedicating time for event planning and mentorship on top of a full course load. We've applied these skills in practical settings, clocking long hours over the summer in prestigious internships, labs, and service projects. Notre Dame students know how to give up comfort in the name of growth. With hard work and opportunity, we have achieved great things. But we have not done so alone, and now is the time to give thanks. We have also been supported by incredible families, mentors, and peers, whose compassion and heart push us to grow in new and exciting ways.

As the child of two brilliant, devoted, and hard-working immigrants, I know precisely what it's like to have gratitude motivate discipline. Just so, the privilege of a Notre Dame education calls us out of complacency and into responsibility—to do what we can with what we have been given, and to give back to those who have made our journeys possible. Our gratitude for Notre Dame's commitment to education and community underlies our responsibility to pay it forward. We put love into action whenever we lend someone a hand, and thus assert Notre Dame's legacy in the world. 

Second, hope is not naive; it is not an avoidance of the world's challenges or injustices. Rather, it is in reckoning with them that we find the courage to bring change. I, for one, can say that these challenges have shaped every aspect of my life. They have shaped my heart, as my family's history has made it difficult to find identity and belonging amid different cultures. I grew up in Panama City, Panama, with Venezuelan and Puerto Rican parents, and Cuban and Spanish grandparents. Memories of my grandfather reading poems about home, longing, and the loss of his country to dictatorship, remind me of how easy it can be to lose hope in light of distance, and to fight to retain who you are in light of displacement. Challenges have shaped my intellectual life, as in Panama, I worked to start an organization that helps young mothers finish their education.

At Notre Dame, I was humbled by the opportunity to translate this passion into research, working with Doctor Abby Córdova and the Kellogg Institute to study gender-based violence. But the more I learned about the depth of embedded injustices, the more I struggled to remain hopeful—What can I do in light of systemic barriers to change? Finally, challenges affected my spirit when at 17, I lost my best friend Paola in an accident. Upon arriving at Notre Dame, our community faced the loss of Valeria Espinel and Olivia Rojas—two friends we grieve not just for the conversations we had, but for all those we did not get to. How can we retain hope if nothing can prepare us for loss? 

While in different forms, we have all faced challenges we cannot control. For many, these experiences came while abroad, learning to face loneliness and discover one's identity amid cultural differences. For others, service experiences opened their eyes to a world of injustice, and the distance that often hinders understanding. Inside each of us is an inner world full of all those things we have overcome, yet never make it to our resume. It is precisely these challenges that often erode our hope, for it is easy to become desensitized to injustice when no amount of achievement will allow us to bring change. Yet, I pose that during our time here, our deepest learning and perhaps deepest growth has come from facing that very question: how can we maintain hope when "greatness" is no longer enough? 

This brings me to the third and most important lesson I've learned while here: Hope comes not just from our successes against injustice, but from the love we share along the way. Our Lady has taught us that we build hope through connection, for it is love—a commitment to the good of the other—that allows us to find meaning. My family's history allowed me to see the beauty in diversity and intergenerational understanding—of finding community where we never thought it possible. My experiences researching gender-based violence allowed me to contextualize volunteering at immigration clinics, where I learned how accompanying one migrant can make the brunt of injustice easier to bear.

Finally, my experiences with loss remind me of the beauty in being remembered, and what it is that we truly leave behind. They pushed me to ask, what does it mean to live a meaningful life? At Notre Dame, we have learned that our worth is not measured by statistics, but rather in the myriad ways we act as a light to others, making their worlds just a little bit brighter. This looks like sitting with your friends in Hes for their late-night Orgo "grind-sesh”. It looks like Lane Obringer, taking the time to walk with her fellow classmates and learn about what matters most to them. It looks like accompaniment, and radically choosing to love those around you, because those are the relationships that give us hope.

So, what does it mean to be an ND graduate? It means we ask big questions on meaning and purpose. It means we seek community, and create a space for the integral and holistic development of those around us. It means we share the utmost care for the vulnerable, carrying a responsibility to use our talents to serve the common good. Most importantly, it means that we know who we are is more than what we do. That, in a world that measures us from before we learn to speak and where our own hunger for justice leaves us feeling hopeless in an unjust world—we know that our worth is tied not to the things we have accomplished, but to the light we bring into every interaction and connection. Our class serves as a testament to what can happen when you take that commitment to heart.

Class of 2024, our time here has demonstrated that we can and will accomplish great things. But as soon-to-be Notre Dame graduates, I think we can challenge ourselves to go beyond that: to think that maybe—we can strive not just to be great, but to be good. I'll end with my favorite quote often attributed to Saint Augustine: Hope has two beautiful daughters, anger and courage. Anger that things are the way they are, and courage to make them what they ought to be. Let us recognize the injustices around us that seem too large to conquer and all that lies beyond our control, but let us also have the courage to dive into that uncertainty—to approach pain with resilience, struggle with discipline, and hopelessness with connection.

We have already demonstrated our capacity to find community in the face of distance. This, in the end, is what gives me hope—not just that we will achieve great things in the face of adversity, because of that I am sure—but rather that we will find meaning in every life we touch along the way.

So let us hope to be a light in a dimming world, shooting for the moon while remembering to love the stars.