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2023 - Jesse Ramirez: This day is just the start

Tags: Commencement | Graduation Essays
Published 12/19/2023
Jesse Ramirez, student speaker for the Fall 2023 Career and Technical Programs Commencement Ceremony

Jesse Ramirez, student speaker for the Fall 2023 Career and Technical Programs Commencement Ceremony

Good morning, ECC students, staff, family, friends, and loved ones of those who are here. First off, I would like to say how much of an honor it is to be standing before you here. If you had asked me five years ago when I came back to ECC if I would be standing here, I probably would tell you it wouldn’t be possible.

My journey at ECC has been riddled with hardships, pain, hope, loss, and self-discovery, and the past five years pushed me to my limits. From toxic relationships to mental health struggles that almost cost me my life, I have been through it all. I would find myself at times asking myself what I have going for me. Can I even really be of service to someone if I don’t have it all together?

Before coming to ECC, I was struggling to find out who I was and, along with that, my mental health. There had been multiple times I had contemplated ending my life and almost succeeding at it, too. I had caused my family so much pain and worry. But there was a light for me just waiting to be found. In one of my therapy sessions, my therapist asked me if I would be interested in attending the certified alcohol and another drug program at ECC. She said I would make a great fit due to my empathy and open heart. She saw what I did not see in me at that time. I wasn’t sure about doing the courses at first, but I ended up taking them. I am glad I did, as it changed my life for the better.

Things began to click when I took my first class after a five-year hiatus. It felt as if I had found my tribe. I found somewhere I belonged. The human services program helped restore part of my sense of self at a time when I was truly lost. It helped me find purpose in helping others and apply those methods we use with clients to myself. I gained knowledge, insight, and wisdom about navigating the world in an authentic way, full of humor, compassion, and hope. This wouldn’t have been possible without the words of Dr. Hope and Dr. Rosenfield. You have both helped me channel my inner gifts. I am immensely grateful for my time in your classes and under your tutelage. The world is very lucky to have people like you who care about the field and your students. From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank both and all the faculty of the human services program.

To my classmates, I am glad to hear your stories, your vulnerabilities of working in this field, and how much of yourselves you give to those you work with. It is an honor to be in your presence. I have learned so much from you on both a professional and personal level. I will take the wisdom and experiences you have shown me no matter where I go. I am proud to see where this life takes you. The work you do is important, but you are not unnoticed. You are appreciated and valued.

My family and friends have stuck by my side throughout my journey at ECC. They have watched me struggle and grow. They gave me words of encouragement when I had none to pull from. My family and friends have watched me grow from a student into a developing substance use counselor. I am so grateful to have had you all here for it. It's been one of the most rewarding things to share with you in my entire life. You have seen me at my lowest when I couldn’t stand up on my own or for myself. With your help and guidance, I am here today to be an example that there is hope not just for me but for anyone struggling out there.

Lastly, I would like to remind you that this day is just the start. It starts with how you define who you are and what terms you live on. Before closing out this speech, I would like to leave you with a quote from the comedian Chelsea Handler: “I define myself. No event or person does this. I define me.” Congratulations, class of 2023. You did it, and you’re here and will keep doing it. Keep your head held high! Thank you.


Jesse Ramirez ‘23
Associate of Applied Science – Human Services Substance Abuse Counseling
West Dundee, Ill.