Genesis De Los Santos ’15 was one of two students voted by her classmates to speak at her graduation on May 29, 2015. At Nobles, Genesis was a Prefect, Middle School Mentor and travelled to India, Vietnam and Cambodia. She matriculated at Harvard College in the Fall of 2015 but returned to Nobles this past fall for the first annual Family Dinner with her family. The following is a shortened version of her graduation speech, “You’re a Firecracker.”
I walked into Nobles on a dewy September morning in 2011 with fear glistening in my eyes. The bus ride was a quiet one. At least, for me it was; seniors, juniors, and sophomores in the back were bustling with excitement for the first day of a routine that would repeat itself for nine more months of the year. I walked into Nobles afraid, and in some ways, I walked into Nobles believing that this would be the worst four years of my life.
I was a stranger, and I felt alone amongst my peers. Little did I know, some of them were feeling the same type of teenage anxiety that was overtaking me. The first weeks of my time at Nobles were spent underneath the counter of the front desk. In fact, every afternoon that fall, right after thirds field hockey practice, I would run to Mrs. Burr. In this small office and under her watch, I felt at ease. And it was there, under the counter, beneath the mailboxes, and with a stuffed dog that I first started to see myself at Nobles. It was also there, while I was taking my daily nap, that I first met Mr. Henderson.
Every afternoon, right when I jumped off of the bus and slammed the car door, tears would start flowing down my face. My father never managed to form the words “How was your day?” or “Como te fue?” on his lips, because my tears conveyed exactly how my day had gone. In many ways, I was afraid of Nobles because I thought that I had to hide who I was. Everyone around me seemed to be making friends and transitioning with ease. Much of my freshman year was spent feeling distanced from the people around me.
I can remember the suffocating heat of the summer of 2005 vividly. The landline rang straight through the summer and into the fall. Each day, I watched my mother in prayer. The flicker of the candle illuminated our small apartment’s kitchen; the blue tiles glistened under the candle’s light. I watched my mother suffering as she shrank under the pressure of possibly raising a family on her own. My father had gone on a short trip to visit my grandmother in the Dominican Republic, the place where both he and my mother were born. Yet, his trip was cut short when an 18-wheeler struck his car and left it in shambles, and my father was under the debris. That summer, he went through two consecutive comas.
As the oldest, I was expected to help my mother around the home and with my siblings. As my mother worked back-to-back shifts that fall, I made sure my siblings ate at least one bowl of cereal every night before bed. Even as my mother fell deeper into desolation, I held my head high, in hopes that carrying her responsibilities on my shoulders would alleviate her despair. Most days after school, my siblings and I would climb the cream-colored staircase all the way to our third floor apartment. Once inside, I would mount a chair to reach the cabinet and pull out some Froot Loops. By the time my mom got home from work, the table would be cleared, the dishes would be done, our homework packets would be placed neatly into our folders, and the last page of Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat would be read.
This was the way that my household functioned until late November. My father came home in time for Thanksgiving and, after three surgeries, had fully recovered, but this experience has never left me. It has shaped the person I am today. Now, I catch sight of my mother wobbling into the house after a long shift of cleaning hotel rooms, leaning against the wall for breath, and I watch as my father’s wrinkled face droops with a desire for sleep. In these moments, I realize that I carry their dreams and their faith; I carry them. I constantly balance the life that I live at Nobles with my household responsibilities, which include taking care of my five-year-old sister while my parents work weekends and providing the emotional support that my mom and dad cannot always offer to both my thirteen-year-old brother and sixteen-year-old sister.
In order to find a place at Nobles, I had to be open about who I was at home and I had to allow Nobles to continue to build upon that person. In order to liberate my voice from the chains that prohibited it from freely forming words, I had to allow Nobles to be a part of my life. If you asked me to pinpoint the exact moment when Nobles became my home, I would not be able to tell you. Perhaps it was the first time I made an appearance in an MSA video talking about my heritage, or maybe it was the time during an SLC election that I said, “I brought the party to the people.” It might not have been either of these moments. What I do know is that Mrs. Burr said these words to me: “You’re a firecracker.” And from that day forward, I allowed myself to be vulnerable and I gave myself, my quirks, my all to this community.
I’ll leave you with this: the other day, I spent some time sitting under my counter in the front desk. The dog isn’t there anymore; the mailboxes are still the same gray color that sparkles when it catches the light. Perhaps a couple of new names have been added here and there as faculty members come and go, and the blue-green rug is just as rough as it was freshman year. In that moment, sitting beneath the counter with my legs crossed, I searched for closure, and I looked to say goodbye to the 14-year-old girl that pondered if she would ever belong. Yet, here she is, and for this, I say thank you, thank you to the class of 2015 for being there for me, for truly being “all in this together.” Thank you for opening your arms and your hearts and accepting me and accepting those around you. You’ve caught me even when I’ve fallen flat on my face, you’ve brushed my shoulders off, and you’ve helped me free my voice. And it is because of you and the Nobles community that I will never again allow myself to waste time underneath counters. We might be leaving 10 Campus Drive for today, but it will always be in our memories, it will always be our home.