Persevera y Vencerás: An Abuelita’s Imperative for a Future in Progress

Reflections by Wendy Arce (PhD, 2016)
GTU Commencement, May 12, 2016

Greetings. It is an honor to share some reflections today and to graduate with such a diverse class! I would like to say I took so long to finish because I was waiting to walk with this beautiful group of scholars, but those of you who know me, know that I’ve been a little busy. My doctoral career, which is the case for many of you graduating today, was a balancing act. For me, it involved traveling the four corners of the bay: teaching, working, writing, driving – sometimes, all at once. In fact, time passed by so quickly that without knowing, I was listed among those honored by the University of San Francisco for five years of teaching service just last week. During those five years, my class has attracted mostly Latinx undergrads, whose experience was celebrated in my classroom. Creating that sacred space was a constant reminder of why I started this degree and that fueled me to the finish line.

My grandmother’s motto, persevera y vencerás, also fueled me. And yes, to the grads who took my summer Spanish course – I will translate. Persevera is second person singular, imperative or command form – Persevere. Vencerás is the second person singular future – you will overcome. Persevere and you will overcome. It’s a powerful three word statement because the grammatical implication is that despite obstacles, perseverance will result in a hopeful future. My abuelita, Maria Teresa Mora de Arce, passed away right before I started this program, but her wise words fueled me when I felt I could not make the time to finish what I call the 328 page monster piece. It was a struggle, it was hard, but I made it work.

I share this with you today because I know struggle has been a similar theme for many of us, largely because of the tenuous space that the fields of theology and religious studies currently hold in higher education. The current neoliberal capitalist worldview in our society values lucrative professions over moral, critical, emotional and psychological development of human persons, aspects that our fields attend to. Despite the value of what we offer, universities and colleges have cut contract and tenure lines in the humanities because of their perceived lack of capital value. Similarly, seminaries, several of our member schools and the GTU have had to make very difficult decisions in past years. This causes all of us to face the fear that what we had hoped we could do with our degrees might not come to fruition – a scary prospect, but something that we must still persevere to overcome. And while it may feel as though our work is not valued, this means that our work is more important than ever. Despite the obstacles, we must continue to teach, work, write, and serve as best we are able so we can build a better, more informed and critically engaged world.

My abuelita’s imperative for a hopeful future rings true at a time like this. However, I add to her words the notion that the future is a future in progress. The road we have planned might unexpectedly shift under our feet. Therefore, we must be flexible and adaptive as we persevere, sometimes having to change plans, shift directions, or adapt our focus so that we will eventually overcome. With creativity and reinvention in light of the times, we can still use our new found position as doctors and masters in the study of religion and theology to bring our important work to a world that desperately needs it; even if what we do differs from what we originally had in mind. As we depart from the GTU, remember to be creative and adaptive, pave your own path that connects you with your communities, brings you joy and allows you to foster your scholarship. Do not forget the importance of the work you have done here. And as you face those inevitable obstacles, remember my abuelita’s imperative for a future in progress: Persevera y Vencerás. Thank you.