Maria Klariza Tan Madrazo received a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering with magna cum laude honors from the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology. She also served as the student speaker for the college during its Commencement ceremony on May 25.
Madrazo, who is from the island of Guam, possesses a deep interest in sustainability engineering. With the support of faculty and staff in the College of ECST, she excelled in her courses and learned hands-on skills that have prepared her to present her research at an upcoming international geoscience and remote sensing symposium. A Dean’s List student, Madrazo is also working on publishing in a scientific journal alongside her advisor.
“… I’ve learned that it’s not about where you come from; it’s about where you’re going and the determination you have to get there,” Madrazo said to fellow graduates in her speech at Commencement.
Read her speech below.
Good afternoon, fellow graduates, esteemed faculty members, and guests. Before I begin, let me share a fun fact with you all.
Since I became a student at Cal State LA, I’ve spent 2,944 minutes meditating using the Headspace app. For those who aren’t familiar with it, it’s a meditation app that helps incorporate mindfulness practices into our busy lives. And to put those numbers into perspective: that’s equivalent to 49 hours of meditation—that’s a whole workweek plus overtime!
Now, as we gather here today to celebrate our graduation, I want to talk to you about a concept that is near and dear to every engineer’s heart: stress.
Stress is a critical concept in engineering design that helps us analyze whether materials in a structure can withstand heavy loads and avoid failure. It’s measured by the amount of force exerted on a particular area. A certain level of stress is necessary to make a material stronger and more resilient, but too much stress can cause the material to fail.
This metaphor of stress as force over area can also be applied to the stress and challenges we face in life. Whether it be in our personal or professional lives, we all face difficulties that can seem insurmountable at times. But just like in engineering, we can harness the stress and use it to make us stronger and more resilient. By pushing ourselves beyond our limits and facing our challenges head-on, we can develop the strength and perseverance to overcome any obstacle.
When I transferred to Cal State LA with plans to achieve a civil engineering degree, I wasn’t sure if I would be a good fit because of my nontraditional background in the cosmetics and fashion industry. But I’ve learned that it’s not about where you come from; it’s about where you’re going and the determination you have to get there.
As I took more courses, the environmental aspects in engineering fueled a passion in me. When I took CE 2840 Environmental Engineering I, virtually at the height of the pandemic, I was worried that I would not be able to build a strong relationship with my professor in hopes of potential mentorship. However, I decided to make the extra effort on my class submissions. My hard work paid off because my professor, Dr. Arezoo Khodayari, noticed the extra work that I had been putting into my assignments. And she had a conversation with me about my interests in the field and future plans.
A year later, in Dr. Khodayari’s research group, a position for an undergraduate research assistant in collaboration with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory opened for a student to do climate change-related research. I didn’t feel qualified, but she still encouraged me to apply. Because of the rigorous courses offered by the university, mentorship from my professors, and hard work that I have showcased through my coursework, I was selected for this opportunity by the same professor.
I was thrilled to be a part of such an amazing opportunity, yet I experienced stress, and even doubted that I could deliver the work intended. Juggling an internship during my final year of undergraduate school, while experiencing life and its hardships was not easy. During the first week of the internship, I wanted to give up! But after a talk with Dr. Khodayari, and many conversations with those near and dear to me, their support empowered me and gave me the motivation to continue. My initial reaction to give up was a false warning that usually comes with the stress and fear of starting something new and out of our comfort zones. I continued with a growth mindset, and it was not an easy journey!
Through my experience, I found the recipe for success, which I want to share with you all—this includes determination, being open to feedback, putting in the hours, communicating your interests to professors, and most importantly, asking for help. When I look back at my journey and the challenges I experienced, I see that because I cared so much to do well and produce both academic and professional results that could contribute to the greater good of the world, I knew that I had to work harder! But it all paid off in the end. Through my commitment, hard work, support from my advisor, mentors, peers, colleagues, and family, I was capable of overcoming all the challenges.
Now, it’s been a year since I have been working on my research at Cal State LA in collaboration with JPL. I have grown so much as a researcher, engineer and person. I have come a long way, and I have been able to present my research at the American Geophysical Union in Chicago last December, the European Geophysical Union, will soon present at the International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium, and am working on publishing a scientific journal with my advisor—all while maintaining above a 3.5 GPA every semester!
I encourage you all not to let stress and fear decide for you. Let this be a reminder that it is the small steps we take every day, the hard work we put in, and the support of those around us that lead us to success.
With that being said, I would like to acknowledge the support and guidance provided by the faculty, staff, family members, significant others, pets, classmates and all who have helped the graduates along the way.
First, I would like to say thank you to the Cal State LA community for their unwavering support and encouragement throughout our academic journey and for making this a place where we could be ourselves and grow into our potential.
Next, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to my parents: Roland and Arlene, my brothers: John, Allen, and Angelo, my love: David, and my dogs: Toasty and Nabi, for their unconditional love. I’d like to dedicate my degree to my Lola.
Lastly, to my fellow graduates, in our journey as students, it is often overlooked how isolating it is and how much sacrifices needed to be made. I would like to acknowledge the achievements of my fellow graduates and congratulate them on their success: graduates, you all inspire me, and I can’t wait to see you all succeed.! And a special shoutout to ECST CE Senior Design Team 1!
So, fellow graduates, as we step into the next chapter of our lives, remember that stress is not always a bad thing. It can be a sign that we care deeply about something and are willing to push ourselves to achieve our goals. Embrace the challenges you would face and use them as a tool to make you stronger and more resilient in all aspects of your life. Like integrally sound structures, we are resilient, and we are unbreakable.
I want to leave you with a quote by author and artist Mary Anne Radmacher: “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.”
Congratulations, Class of 2023, and go forth with the strength of your experiences behind you!
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