When Ruth Miller ’19 and Patricia Rodarte ’19 MD’23 were first nominated to submit speeches for this year’s Commencement, neither thought they would be the ones to address parents, faculty, administration and their entire graduating class.
For Rodarte, writing a first draft simply meant an opportunity to think through the changes she experienced in her first four years at Brown. Her writing “started with that idea of processing and seeing what came out of it,” she said. And “if it was good, then it could potentially be relatable to other students.”
Miller said she didn’t start drafting her speech for quite some time after being nominated because she thought she might not be the right person to speak at the ceremony.
“There were a lot of other voices that I would really prefer to hear other than my own,” Miller said. “But in the end, I felt that this was a really important platform and I should give myself the opportunity to say things I think are important and need to be heard.”
Miller plans to use the platform to speak to the Brown community on the theme of radical compassion, something she believes is needed in a world marked by division. “No one’s going to listen to you if you scold them,” Miller said. “Part of being radically compassionate is learning about dialogue instead of debate.”
Radical compassion can also take the form of self-care. “We’re often told … that we have to be tough and hard in our studies, in our relationships, in our work,” she said. “I think that it is radical to recenter human connection and … compassion.”
In her time at Brown, Miller has learned to be radically compassionate towards herself and others. As a Dena’ina Athabascan Alaska Native, she has served as co-coordinator of the student organization Natives at Brown. She joined a trip to North Dakota to show solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux and protest the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline. In her enthusiasm for activism and academics, she found herself overloaded in the first semester of her sophomore year, and made the decision to drop one of her five courses.
“That was a hard moment for me to realize that I couldn’t do everything,” she said. “And it gave me the first insight into what it means to take care of myself during my fights for social justice (and) what it means to ask for help.”
During her speech, Miller also plans to acknowledge that the University exists on land that originally belonged to the Wampanoag and Narragansett communities and recognize the work of student activists.
“The significant changes and reforms of the past four years of my time at Brown have been built on the backs of student activists and faculty allies, often at the deep expense of their time, energy and health,” Miller said. “Advocacy always demands sacrifice and dedication to seek unwilling change.”
Rodarte, whose speech is centered around the theme of border-crossing, drew a connection between her speech and Miller’s. She said that being compassionate and crossing borders both require one to prioritize others’ well-being. Even at Brown, a school that encourages collaboration, “at the end of the day, it seems like you have to look out for yourself” when vying for higher grades and internships, Rodarte said. But at the same time, “you have to view yourself in the context of your communities.”
She emphasized the importance of forging connections between people with different backgrounds and exchanging ideas. She plans to talk about her experience growing up in El Paso, Texas, a town near the physical border between the United States and Mexico. But she says that Brown, too, can be a place to transcend borders, though in less tangible ways. Though she experienced culture shock when she first arrived at the University, Rodarte eventually found that her identity as a first-generation and low-income student was an asset in “being able to communicate with people from very different backgrounds.”
Rodarte hopes to employ what she has learned in her experiences with border-crossings to make connections with her patients as a future doctor.
“To be a doctor, in my perspective, (is) to see a patient and not just a body to be cured or illness to be treated” and “recognizing people as whole and well-rounded,” she said.
As a member of the Program in Liberal Medical Education, Rodarte will stay at Brown for the next four years to earn her medical degree. Miller hopes to exercise radical compassion towards herself by taking a year off to live at home before starting volunteer work with native communities in Hawaii and New Zealand.
Miller and Rodarte will serve as the speakers for the University’s 251st commencement ceremony, a tradition that “Brown is distinctive (for) in reserving that honor for members of the graduating class,” according to the University’s press release.