Maria Graf, the faculty speaker at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s 58th midyear commencement, is an assistant professor in UW Oshkosh’s College of Nursing. She teaches community health nursing and is a lead instructor for the international community health clinical rotations. Her research interests include mental health needs and access to services among women of color, with an emphasis on Latina migrant farmworkers in the upper Midwest. Graf’s research has been featured in national and international academic journals. She is an active member of the campus community and proudly serves as co-advisor for the Student Organization of Latinos. Graf earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing science at the Universidad San Luis Gonzaga de Ica-Peru, a master’s in nursing education from UWO and a doctorate in nursing philosophy from UW Milwaukee. She is the only certified advanced transcultural nurse in Wisconsin.
Here are her prepared remarks from Saturday’s ceremony:
Good morning to our respected chancellor Dr. Andrew Leavitt, Provost John Koker, distinguished members of UWO leadership, esteemed colleagues, and all the families, friends, and students in attendance. And, of course, good morning to our dear graduates.
I’m honored and pleased to be delivering this commencement speech. My name is Maria del Carmen Elias Chanllio, and it is Maria Graf in English. I was born in Lima, Peru, a beautiful South American city by the Pacific Ocean. It was in Peru where I earned my Bachelor of Nursing degree in 1996 and started my nursing practice. So, little I knew by then that life would take me away from home all the way “up” to Wisconsin. In other words, I am a Peruvian RN licensed to practice in the United States, and for the past 16 years, I have been an immigrant. My life as an immigrant is full of ups and downs, sadness and joy, successes, and challenges. But if there is something that I must acknowledge in my life are the opportunities offered to me. And it is because of all these opportunities that I am here today.
Right after I moved to Wisconsin, my husband was driving me around Oshkosh, and when we drove by Algoma Boulevard, I saw a big sign that said University of Wisconsin Oshkosh College of Nursing. That sign reignited my interest in practicing nursing again. So, I made some arrangements, and I was dropped off here at the College of Nursing. After I knocked on the door, I was received by a very nice lady with big blue eyes and blonde hair to whom, in very broken English, I explained who I was and what I wanted to do.
Becky Cleveland welcomed me and helped me understand what I needed to do to obtain my American RN license. She was the person who gave me the first opportunity to pursue my professional goals here in Wisconsin. Throughout my life, I have been blessed with many of these opportunities. For example, when I decided to pursue my Master’s in nursing education or my Ph.D., or when I applied for a faculty position here at the College of Nursing. In my personal life, I’ve also been blessed with several opportunities. I was welcomed by a great Wisconsinite family, who helped me learn the ways of my new country. But with these countless opportunities a new feeling was also growing inside my heart. The feeling was gratitude.
Gratitude to all the people who, along the way, opened these opportunities for me. The lady I met the first time I visited the College of Nursing. My colleagues at UWO who did not look at what I was lacking but would appreciate what I was offering. The students whose enthusiasm feels like the energy we all teachers need to keep going.
So, on this special day, I hope you can look upon yourself and bring back the memories of all the opportunities that have been presented in your life. Because, like me, you are here today because of a set of opportunities.
Opportunities in the form of a teacher who helped you understand the class content, who gave you an extension for assignments, or a classmate who helped you study for a difficult exam—supervisors and co-workers who helped you work around classes and finals. Or your family who supported you financially or emotionally while you were in college. Or your friends or significant others who patiently understood your mood changes because you were under the stress of finals and cheerfully waited for spring or summer break to spend some time with you.
Please pause for a moment to think about the gratitude that has been growing inside of you toward these people and our alma mater UW Oshkosh. To the faculty, classmates, staff that works here, and all the people who, even when you were unaware, were riding this journey with you. Remember that you are a Titan and, from now on, an ambassador of UW Oshkosh.
Gratitude to the place where you have lived and learned for the past few years, and which takes its name from Oshkosh, a great leader of the Menominee Nation. Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the land of cold winters and warm-hearted people, I want you to know from the perspective of a foreigner who is in love with Wisconsin how beautiful this land is.
I want to take a couple of minutes to address mi gente: Me siento muy feliz de acompañarlos en su graduación. Me da mucha alegría verlos cumplir con esta primera meta profesional que es el resultado de su esfuerzo, resiliencia, sacrificio y perseverancia. Y a todos los padres y familiares, muchas felicidades porque sus hijos son unos luchones, ¡¡¡que ni el Covid evito que se graduaran!!! Les deseo muchas suerte y un future exitoso.
So, I want to leave you with a reflection. Please think that in your not-so-far-ahead future, maybe one day you will be behind the door where another person maybe with broken English will knock and ask you for an opportunity.