A student’s valedictorian speech is going viral for honoring her immigrant parents with a sentimental prop.
Dressed in a blue and white cap and gown adorned with cords, sashes and medals signifying her myriad accomplishments, Mulberry High School’s Brenda Alvarez-Lagunas approached the podium with a basket of strawberries.
“These are not ordinary strawberries, they’re jewels,” the Florida teen said as she picked up pieces of fruit. “This one represents sweat, this one represents dirt ... Oh, and these are aches and pains. In other words, they are my motivators.”
Alvarez-Lagunas’s parents immigrated from Mexico and settled down in Florida. With only a fourth-grade education, they supported Brenda and her three siblings by picking strawberries, blueberries, cucumbers and sweet potatoes in the Southern heat that would leave them “glazed in sweat, and their clothes dripping wet as if it had just rained on them.” When her father was deported when she was in the seventh grade, her mother served as the sole provider.
“Despite the beaming sun, and the body aches and pains, their smiles shone with every bucket of produce they carried,” she said, adding that she’d join her parents in the scorching fields to pick crops after school and on the weekends. “And yes, my motivation has been rooted in my migrant culture.”
It’s because of this that she chose to focus on exactly that in her address.
“A lot of students used to be ashamed of their upbringing but today, we are proud of what makes us, us. I wanted to acknowledge [my parents’] hard work that cultivated our mind and shaped us into driven individuals,” Alvarez-Lagunas tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “We were given the will to succeed and today, students recognize the importance of their story.”
“Watching my parents working under the sun from morning to dusk ignited a passion within me,”Alvarez-Lagunas tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I was going to succeed because it hurt to watch my parents work in such hard labor every single day. I was and am going to succeed because my parents sacrificed so much for my education.”
Because of her efforts, she’s now a QuestBridge Scholar matched to Stanford University where she plans to major in bioengineering to pursue a career as a medic or medical researcher.
Alvarez-Lagunas’ raw and emotional story moved many in the crowd to tears. Mulberry High School Principal Michael Young, who was formally Alvarez-Lagunas’ middle school principal as well, was one audience member getting emotional.
“Her speech were very powerful— she really painted a good picture of the physical sacrifice her parents made,” Young tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “As a principal, when you have such a leader as she was, that does influence other students to aspire and do better also— she’s really left that kind of legacy for us.”
But from the messages of support that Alvarez-Lagunashas received online after watching her speech, her legacy has reached much further than Mulberry High School.
— Mulberry High School (@MHSMulberryFL) May 25, 2019
Alvarez-Lagunas says she dedicated her speech to students like her with uphill battles. “I wanted them to realize that their success has so much sacrifice and meaning behind it. Graduating high school isn’t a standard for us, it’s an accomplishment, a big one,” Alvarez-Lagunas says, adding that she plans to advocate for migrant communities, farmworker families, education equity and low-income families in the future. “I hope to have inspired students who come from similar backgrounds and hope they know that my speech was about us, not me.”
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