Katrina Kuzmina ‘23 and Eden Baron-Williams MA ’23 were selected as the undergraduate and graduate commencement speakers, respectively.
Though Kuzmina said she felt honored to be selected as the undergraduate student speaker, the journey to get there was bumpy. Kuzmina, who is a Davis United World College scholar from Moscow, nominated herself to be the senior speaker. She felt her country of origin would make her an unlikely pick.
“I honestly didn’t think I was gonna be picked at all because of a political conflict, and I feel like the relationship between my country and the US is just so kind of complicated,” Kuzmina said. “I made sure in my speech to address the ongoing political conflict because obviously, that’s just the elephant in the room.”
Additionally, right before submitting her speech, she got a concussion from intramural basketball.
“They tell me in the medical center, once they diagnosed me with a concussion, they say make sure not to do any physical activity to avoid an injury,” Kuzmina said. “I think to myself, I haven’t hit my head in probably the past at least 15 years, there’s no chance I’m going to hit it again. So I go into dance rehearsal.”
At the rehearsal, Kuzmina hit her head once more, but still stayed up all night in order to finish the speech since she already had an extension. Kuzmina had a little time to rest before auditions, where the 16 nominees sat for three hours while listening to each other’s speeches.
“It was awesome listening to everyone’s speech, though,” Kuzmina said. “Right after that, I had just such full and colorful dreams because there was just so much reflection and thinking back, and every single speaker really talked about it in a very different way.”
In her speech, Kuzmina, who is a rhetoric and media studies major, will focus on the theme of liminality, which refers to the ambiguity experienced during transitional phases.
“I want to encourage my fellow graduating seniors to take time in this transitional space of liminality to reflect on our journey and on what we want to take further with us beyond the point of graduation—what we want to amplify, and what we are ready to leave behind,” Kuzmina said to the Source.
However, what she believes made her speech stand out was her use of humor.
“I was writing, and I’m like, ‘Okay, we’re not trying to make it a stand-up,’ but I definitely wanted to include some sort of humor because I feel like it’s such a sentimental moment, and we’re all just so sad,” Kuzmina said. “I’m gonna cry probably the whole day, so I wanted to bring some lightheartedness to it.”
At first, Baron-Williams was unsure if she was the right fit for the graduate student speaker. She was nominated by a faculty member and feels it to be a privilege to speak on behalf of her peers. However, she was ultimately persuaded to audition.
“Based off of my participation throughout the program, the work that they have seen me do, the way I engage with the community, and the way that I represent the values that the school holds – they just felt that I would be a great candidate,” Baron-Williams said.
Baron-Williams will be graduating with a master of arts in marriage, couple, and family therapy with a specialization in sexualities. In June, she will also receive a certificate in Somatic Attachment Therapy from The Embody Lab before opening her own private practice, Creative Belonging Psychotherapy, in the fall.
Through her speech, she hopes to express to her peers the importance of entering a field with “so much potential for both healing and also harm.” Baron-Williams will focus on her connection to therapeutics and her own story.
“In my speech, I’m really hoping people will feel something, that it’s not just about congratulating our class, but is about continuing to make people think,” Baron-Williams said. “Because in our world today, there’s just so much to think about, and you’re putting out therapists and educators into the world who can affect change and be more than just a person in a room or resume square, and to really galvanize people toward advocacy.”
Advocacy and social justice are a primary focus for Baron-Williams, in part due to her own experiences. She is vocal about being a survivor of sexual violence and struggled in school.
“When I was younger, I was told that I was going to fail and that I shouldn’t even apply to college,” Baron-Williams said. “I came back hard, and kind of changed that story in my head, in my actions, and here I am.”
However, therapy has always been a natural focus for Baron-Williams. For her, the struggles she faced throughout her academic career were important to overcome in order to become a part of the field.
“I also was always that person, for my friends and family growing up, I was always the resident therapist,” Baron-Williams said. “… Now I’m just learning to channel it in a way that is sustainable, (so I) can hold more boundaries professionally and personally. I think it’s the best job in the world.”
Baron-Williams looks forward to implementing what she has learned at Lewis & Clark into her own practice, part of which is emphasized by the practice’s name itself.
“I named it Creative Belonging because, in our world, I feel like a lot of people have to be creative about the ways that they feel they belong,” Baron-Williams said. “Issues of not feeling like you belong in the world are huge. We have to create our own landscape sometimes in which we feel like we really have a sense of belonging and a sense of community with others. That’s the people that my practice is geared toward.”
Undergraduate commencement ceremony will be held on May 6 at 2 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum. According to an email sent to graduating seniors, astrobiologist, actor and professor Aomawa Shields will also be speaking. Shields, who currently teaches at the University of California Irvine, also published a book titled “Life on Other Planets: A Memoir of Finding My Place in the Universe.”
The graduate commencement ceremony will be held on June 4 at Lewis & Clark. Mercedes Lynn de Uriarte, former University of Texas Austin professor and journalist, will also give an address. Her teaching, research and journalistic career have focused on social justice issues such as exclusion, Latine erasure and housing insecurity for more than 30 years.