Religious Studies Blog

Posted on May 24th, 2024 by wheelerr

What follows is Alondra Arriaga-Rosales’s address as delivered at the School of Liberal Arts Commencement, May 10th, 2024

Welcome students. My name is Alondra Arriaga-Rosales, and I am one amongst many 2024 School of Liberal Arts graduates. Can you all believe that we have made it right celebrating our academic success?! Today marks the end of our undergraduate journey but it also marks the beginning of the rest of our lives.

I remember when I was in my freshman orientation over the summer of 2019. I was so nervous for many reasons of course. I was eager to channel a passion I have that I didn’t know about then. First, no one in my family had ever attended college.

Second, I had no clue what I was doing or what was expected of me. So, there I am, at the scheduling portion of my orientation.  I was told by my advisor that I am required to sign up for a first-year seminar called a Themed-Learning Community (TLC).

I pushed back and asked why it was required of me to sign up for class that wouldn’t necessarily be counted for my degree. All I wanted to do was take the necessary courses to begin the path to becoming a lawyer. Little did I know that the TLC would completely change the trajectory of my academic journey.

The courses I signed up for were Introduction to Religious Studies, Introduction to Native American and Indigenous Studies, and the first-year seminar. Not only did I gain the knowledge of tapping into a worldview that is different than mine, but I gained two amazing mentors who guided me throughout my undergraduate years.

The more courses I took, the more I became aware that what a welcoming environment the School of Liberal Arts is. The more courses I took, the more I fell in love with learning.

Earlier I mentioned that no one in my family had attended college. Now, that coupled with being a first-generation…everything came with an immense amount of pressure.

My mother would always tell me, “Alondra, mija, tú puedes lograr todas tus metas, si te dedicas.” That translates to, “Alondra, my daughter, you can accomplish any goals you set if you stay dedicated.”

Thanks to her, here I am. I doubted myself along the way. I was filled with insecurity, stress, and all the intense feelings of transition we all feel when being in a liminal time between finding our identity in a university setting and finding our identity as adults. Those feelings are normal.

That is why I am grateful for the School and Liberal Arts. The courses allowed me to explore my identity in such profound ways. I was offered many opportunities to work directly with local communities here in Indiana. As a religious studies major, I was able to collaborate with local religious communities and gain insight on their worldview and practices while also reflecting on my own. I also majored in Political Science, and I was afforded the opportunity to work on a campaign and gain insight into the world of politics.

When I reflect on all my experiences, I think about the moments that were most difficult for me. We are all human, tragedy is inevitable, but how we deal and process with life around us is important. The school of Liberal Arts allowed me to gain a very important skill. That skill critically thinking. I am now able to reframe my thinking in moments of tragedy, happiness, and self-reflection. I believe that is a crucially vital skill to have.

I have also had the creativity and flexibility to explore topics that are deemed unconventional for an academic setting. Well, thanks to creativity and flexibility, I was elected as one of the essay winners for the Rowland A. Sherrill Religious Studies Outstanding Student Award! The imposter syndrome was weighing heavy. Imposter syndrome. Anyone else have those feelings? The feeling of not being valuable or smart enough to be in college?

The feeling of unease when you have an accomplishment because it is such a foreign feeling yet familiar. If you ever question yourself, your identity, your intelligence, have this imposter syndrome feeling, you are doing something right. When we question things, we see it as negative, but I would like to argue that those feelings are just as valid as the “positive ones,” because it gets closer to being our full authentic self.

Now, you all may thinking, okay… so what career do you have? Why does a Liberal Arts degree even matter? If I’m honest, I also had those feelings. When I sat down with my advisor in Religious Studies, asking what I can do with a Religious Studies degree, she laughed. As someone who likes a finite answer, that was quite perplexing. “Not only does it matter, but it is crucial,” she said.

I didn’t get it at the time, but I still decided to add Religious Studies as my major. I knew I wanted to be a lawyer for the wrong reasons. I now work from home, working for a non-profit pension organization. I live on my own, and as a Latino many know that it is rare to see a 23-year-old Latina daughter move out, but I did it. I look around and see that I am no longer living the life of struggle as a kid. I did it. I am proud.

 Don’t let society tell you a humanities degree is not useful. The rest will fall in place.