Commencement - Clark University

Commencement address by Catalina Escobar '93

May 22, 2016

Ms. Escobar is founder and president of the Juan Felipe Gómez Escobar Foundation and a champion for the most vulnerable in Cartagena, Colombia.

Congratulation champions, Clark class 2016!! I am overjoyed with everyone here. Thank you President Angel for this amazing honor. It's so good, so great to be back on campus.

Now, you´re sitting here full of dreams and the desire to conquer the world. I was here too! The energy I feel right now is exactly the same as I felt 23 years ago. That´s what is so special about Clark, the campus, the students, the professors, all faculty members, and this AMAZING environment.

I remember I always had the chance to express myself in college. To always bring new conversations and ideas to what was happening in the world at that time. I clearly remember one. It was in freshmen year back in 1989 when the Colombian presidential candidate, Luis Carlos Galan, was murdered by the most terrifying and largest drug smuggler in history, Pablo Escobar. My last name is Escobar, so how about that! His story is on Netflix, but we don't glorify him. As Colombians we feel so ashamed for all the pain and harm he caused our nation.

Anyways, Luis Carlos Galan's murder clearly brought Colombians together, even from other schools nearby Clark to think about the future we wanted to build for our own country, Colombia. I remember the debates at the Latin American Society and the feeling of passion and patriotism, with a sense of motivation, struggle and courage within us. Without a doubt, we believed in a solution and wanted to be part of our county´s evolution.

So, freshmen year, I knew back then I wasn't studying to be a businesswoman, I was studying because later in life I wanted to influence as many people as I possibly could to build a better nation. I knew it was in our hands, my generation and the generations to come, so I took that job seriously, I still do.

You now officially start being part of the economic world as scientists, business people, psychologists, doctors, lawyers…true thinkers and doers who will give the greatest input to a progressive society. Now, you have to think your choices thoroughly, because it's a duty, a commitment, and a responsibility involved in every choice you make. And of course you have to enjoy the ride. Life is also smiling and enjoying the ride!

Your generation has impressive ways of moving around. When I graduated back in 1993 there were no cellphones, no Google, mail? Only the Clark´s P.O. Box! Every week for four years my father used to send me Colombian magazines by courier, to read about politics and economics so I won´t loose the track of my country´s situation. But now we all use our smartphone every minute I guess we might be using one right now, huh? — because we want to keep ourselves updated on things we consider relevant. In my case, social media is the greatest tool to give my opinions and voice to the cause I work for.

Technology has solved so many problems across the world. As a human race we have discovered so many great things through technology to improve the life of humanity. We have even discovered water in Mars. Can you believe that? Water on Mars! But we haven’t been able to stop corruption, war, environmental issues, poverty, world hunger, gender inequality, racism and disrespect for each other. Indeed, we need technology, but are we really maximizing our priorities?

We have been taught that time is money. Well, money is not bad, and indeed we need it to make a living and have the lives we want, right? But money for what? MONEY FOR WHAT? What the world really needs is more human love and compassion, more doers, because we have a lot of thinkers out there, which is great, we need to build a roadmap, but we need more peace-makers and more people creating innovative solutions to the world´s greatest needs and challenges. Out there, the world is waiting for us to be truly change-makers.

And there is fear; of course there is fear when facing the unknown world. I know how it feels. I´ve been told too many times I was crazy, and instead of being frustrated, it is actually invigorating, because it has nurtured the real passion within myself. We need more crazy, kind, loving, ethical, passionate, connected, engaged people today, more than ever. Of course we need structure, you already have it, you are graduating from Clark University today! But we need to channel the energy you feel today and be more crazy doers! You just need to make the proper decisions and challenge yourself.

Clarkies…you're sitting there…What if we use our talents to really impact the people around us in a positive and prosperous way? We are all connected as a human race. What if we are more respectful towards our mother earth? 'Cause what we're doing right now is completely unsustainable. What if we accept our differences in our religions, race and gender, and we move forward? What if we do not tolerate social inequality anymore, poverty and injustice? What if we stand up and speak for those who remain in silence because they are very vulnerable, like children immigrants from Syria, or girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria, or stand up for all women raped in the Congo every ten minutes, or the one in South Africa every 20 seconds, or what about if we stand up for all of those 15 million girls a year who are forced to get married across the world. Or what about if we stand for the children out there in the developing world who are starving right now.

What if we stand together for the main, basic human values of courage, truth, right conduct, honesty (God…honesty, we forgot where the boundaries are!), love, peace, true friendship, respect. Come on Clarkies, this is not rocket science, it's just going back to the basics and have true personal commitment. Clark did an incredible job at selecting you to join this amazing school, and you are graduating with a remarkable set of tools to stand up for what’s right; we’re all counting on you to make the right commitment and the right choices.

You know, sometimes we have to wait until something bad happens in our life so as to find a destiny to serve others. Why disasters must occur, in order to realize that we have to do something? As David Richo says in one of his books: "there is synchronicity in the way a physical disability or a deep emotional wound becomes the threshold to our mission in life or the unfolding of our talents. The wounded healer archetype is often necessary and thrives on synchronicity that helps us become bolder within ourselves and more compassionate towards others."

And that indeed happened to me 15 years ago, when I was working in the corporate world. I started volunteering at a public hospital in Cartagena, one of the poorest cities in my country, and at the same time the richest, when I witnessed how a little baby died because his teen mother failed to raise 30 dollars to pay for the treatment. I had that money in my pocket, but it was needed few hours before. Four days later, my second son Juan Felipe at the age of 16 months, fell from an eighth floor balcony and passed away. This incident became the main trigger to start the organization I have run for the past 15 years.

It all began by saving the life of a newborn. Seven years later Juanfe Foundation lowered the total infant mortality rate in Cartagena by 81% when at the time it was the highest of the country and the 3rd in Latin America. Today we have saved around 4,200 children from the grips of death and helped over 160,000 patients, all of them in extreme poverty. We have worked with more than 3,200 teen mothers, giving them the chance to break out of their poverty cycles. You see? You don´t have to wait until a tragedy comes to your life in order to take action. You just have to make the choice. When people ask me what do I regret in life? My immediate answer is: I truly regret not devoting myself to humanity before. I could've done more.

Clarkies, there are three important things I would love to share with you and I think will help you in the years to come.

1. Take risks and move forward over and over. Don't be afraid you might fail many times, and if you do, you will feel the pain of failure, and that´s inevitable. But once you recover your wings will open wider. Listen, failure is not the opposite of success, it is actually the step before.

2. Have you thought about the person you really want to become? Think of your life like this. (I know tomorrow you're gonna remember me!) When you're having breakfast every morning, scrambled eggs with bacon. Have you realized what you're eating? Well, let me tell you. The eggs come from a chicken that gives you an egg every day. Yes, a chicken will give you an egg, and will walk away. But in order to have the bacon, you must sacrifice the pig. You see the huge difference? What kind of person would you like to be? Like the chicken that gives something and walks away, or a person willing to sacrifice to benefit others.

3. Have courage and live fully. Out there it's a beautiful world, but a world full of challenges. Face that world by passionately loving what you do, and what you´re good at. And if you love what you're good at, you´re in the right direction, so don't listen to people who may tell you that you're wrong. Follow your passion and your inner voice. And please, set goals greater than yourself, but, please, not goals just about money. Happiness is not money itself. In this journey of working for humanity all I can say is that true happiness only comes when you deeply serve others, and when their happiness is more important that yours and that's the energy I feel every day, much like the energy I feel today.

Don't forget to share, to be compassionate, humble and have a deep respect for integrity; after all, we´re on the same boat. And guess what? You are chief in command! So please go out there, be brave, be bold and be a role model, and when your time comes, be remembered as a person who really left the world a much better place than you found it.

Thank you!