Produced by the Department of Media Relations & Publications

Yolanda Alvarez: Living Proof that 'Nothing is Impossible'

October 23, 2009

Master's degree candidate Yolanda Alvarez addressed the 2009 Commencement of Lehman College, speaking on behalf of her class. She talked about her battle with breast cancer and the "incredible individuals" she has met in her life.

5 Minutes 32 Seconds

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This is Christina Dumistrescu, a student at Lehman College. Master's degree candidate Yolanda Alvarez addressed the 2009 Commencement of Lehman College, speaking on behalf of her class. She talked about her battle with breast cancer and the "incredible individuals" she has met in her life. She is currently pursuing her doctoral degree in Jewish history.



(APPLAUSE) Good morning, President Fernández, distinguished members of the faculty, deans, honored guests, friends, family and the graduating Class of 2009. It is an honor to stand before you on this most memorable day. I decided to take this challenge of writing this commencement speech. I have never done this before, but challenges are good in building character. It is what makes us or breaks us.

When I applied to Lehman College, I did not choose this college because it was close to home. I choose to attend Lehman because I knew that Lehman College is a hidden jewel. I followed my heart and I have never regretted my decision. Here at Lehman, I found support and encouragement when I was unsure. The staff and the departments were willing to help, and there was always a listening ear. The professors have inspired and they had an impact in my life. Their knowledge has been an encouragement and an inspiration to continue learning outside the classroom.

This day, to me, marks another part of my long journey in accomplishing my master's degree. It is a great milestone in my life, as I am sure it is in the life of many of my fellow graduates. I have been homeless, hungry, poor and unloved, yet somehow I managed to survive and rise above it all. I never made excuses in order to fail. To me, the glass was always half full.


I was diagnosed with lupus after giving birth 27 years ago. I was told I would not live to see the age of 32. At the age of 27 I was informed I had breast cancer and I needed a double mastectomy or I would not live past nine months. Alone and afraid, I thought this battle would definitely bring me down to my knees. It did. But I had a choice.

My choice was to find the strength inside me and pick myself up. Staying down was not an option. (CHEERING) Four days ago I turned 48. Fooled them. (APPLAUSE) Just goes to show you that with faith, anything is possible. Along my journey I have encountered incredible individuals, some who as recent as a few months ago have touched my life and sit in the audience today. They are here to share my accomplishments. They often tell me I am a hero. But I think they are the heroes.

I have learned that often, one does not need family when surrounded by true friends who love you. In the midst of my trials and tribulations, I managed to raise a son alone against all odds, a son who sits in the audience, a son I'm extremely proud of. He is responsible, giving and caring individual who now has a family of his own. Even though he never had a father figure in his life, he is an incredible dad. I did my job. The rest was up to him.


Where most live to die, I was dying to live. I am living proof that nothing is impossible. We all go through hardships in our daily lives, some more than others. But it is how we handle these situations which makes the difference.

This day marks the end of a new beginning. I am positive many of you wonder what is next, as I, too, ask myself this question. As we travel through this journey of life, we should remember that in the face of adversity, courage is what will keep us-- forward. Failure is not an option. The sleepless nights have ceased and so have the deadlines. Even though we no longer have exams does not mean we should stop being students.

The world can be a cold and sometimes cruel place. Yet, if you can get past this, it is also a beautiful world. All one needs to do is stop and really take notice.


As you walk out those gates today-- with diploma in hand, there are two things a professor once told me no one can take away from you. One is being a parent. No one can take this away from you. And the other is your degree. Even if you never do anything with it, it is yours. But I am confident that each and every one of you will make your mark in this world.

Remain humble, but not silent. This is the greatest sin of all. Treat others as you want to be treated. Above all, respect yourselves first. Never settle for less. Always believe in yourself. Choose to be happy, and it will come. Congratulations Class of 2009. (APPLAUSE)



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