Graduating senior Brandon Lawler is the spring 2020 student speaker for the College of Arts & Letters online graduation celebration. Lawler graduated with a B.A. in Spanish and minors in Mathematics and LGBTQ+ and Sexuality Studies and currently is pursuing a secondary teaching certificate via the College of Education’s Teacher Preparation Program.
As the student graduation speaker, Lawler represents the College of Arts & Letters (CAL) Class of 2020 and offers inspiration and encouraging words as these graduates move on from Michigan State University.
“Being the commencement speaker is really a dream come true. It is something I have wanted to do since arriving at MSU,” Lawler said. “Having the honor of addressing my fellow graduates as well as representing CAL validates my experience and allows me to leave with one last footprint on my MSU journey as we take the first steps of being CAL alumni.”
Having the honor of addressing my fellow graduates as well as representing CAL validates my experience and allows me to leave with one last footprint on my MSU journey as we take the first steps of being CAL alumni.
Lawler hopes that through this graduation address that students “realize that although we each create or own shadow, we at times find ourselves consumed by the shadows of larger beings; the dinosaurs of our lives. We manifest our destinies. We get to choose which dinosaur shadows we bask in and which shadows we choose to overcome. Keep chasing your dreams. As we grow our shadows become larger, and one day your shadow can be of dinosaur proportions.”
After being chosen as the student graduation speaker, Lawler had one day to write a rough draft of the speech, but rose to the occasion.
“Luckily, I can write fairly fast, but I definitely felt the pressure,” Lawler said. “When I began the writing process, I at first was lost. I had no idea how to start or what to say. I wanted it to be a conventional commencement speech (whatever that means) but also did not want to lose my voice.
“I began by talking about my own experiences, struggles, and memories. I also wanted to incorporate something from my major that would bring a unique experience to my address…The main thing was that I remain true to myself without making it all about me so that my fellow graduates and others who listened would use their own experiences, struggles, and memories as the launch pad of the futures to come.”
Lawler chose to come to MSU because of its Teacher Prep program and to pursue a lifelong dream of becoming a high school teacher.
“[Before I decided to pursue a Spanish degree] I always wanted to be a math teacher with no clear path as to what my other discipline would be. However, now I will be a Spanish and math teacher,” Lawler said. “Spanish is an integral part of my life and my identity as a Hispanic individual. My maternal grandparents and their family members speak the language and it was always something I enjoyed listening to. Choosing a Spanish major allowed me to connect more deeply with my Mexican heritage and allowed me to diversify my understanding of the Spanish-speaking world.”
As an MSU student, Lawler created LGBTQ+ Safe Zones, which are designated spaces and people that create a safe, welcoming, and inclusive space for LGBTQ+ individuals. The process of establishing these zones across the College started with a conversation Lawler had with College of Arts & Letters Advisor Jennifer Gansler, in which Lawler offered to put together a training session for the advising group.
“A lot of things inspired me to do this, but most importantly it was my own queer identity,” Lawler said. “CAL prides itself in its Culture of Care for all, but I struggled to find comfort in [the Spanish] department and major that was heavily gendered. The hope was that by having the advisors and others serve as these Safe Zones, then I would not only be improving my own queer experience, but the experiences of queer CAL students of the present and future.”
In addition to these contributions to improving CAL’s Culture of Care, Lawler served on CAL’s College Curriculum Committee for both the 2018-19 and 2019-20 academic years.
“My time on the College Curriculum Committee the last two years has been a wonderful experience, and without it, I do not know where I would be,” Lawler said.
Lawler also was a SparQ Mentor through the LBGT-RC, served on the RCS Department Advisory Committee, and volunteered with the Refugee Development Center.
“All of these [experiences] impacted me differently, but they all gave me a sense of belonging,” Lawler said. “I felt I had made the right choice coming to MSU.”
Lawler also served as an Undergraduate Learning Assistant with the Department of Mathematics and worked for Student Athlete Support Services, tutoring student athletes in a variety of subjects.
“Both of these experiences made me realize how much I love teaching and how much I love sharing knowledge with others,” Lawler said. “It has been an exciting time with both of these jobs, and I would not be the Spartan I am today without these experiences.”
Lawler offers these few words of advice to other students:
“Never give up no matter how hard it gets,” Lawler said. “Challenge things you disagree with. Take risks. Use your voice. Chase your dreams. Leave your mark. And make the world a better place.”
After graduation, Lawler plans on completing the fifth-year teaching internship through the College of Education’s Teacher Prep Program, and upon completion of that program, will look for teaching positions to help “build the future of America.”
To listen to Lawler’s commencement speech and view other graduation information, visit the College of Arts & Letters Class of 2020 website.
Written by Annie Dubois