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More than 10,000 people gathered at the TD Garden on Friday for the University of Massachusetts Boston’s 47th commencement exercises
May 29, 2015

Social Justice Mission Motivates JFK Winner July Suarez

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  • Boston
Chancellor J. Keith Motley presented Suarez with the 2015 JFK Award, which is the highest annual honor given to a UMass Boston graduate.

July Suarez’s parents moved from Colombia to the United States when she was a small child, seeking a better life for their young family. America held immense promise, but as July soon learned, the Land of Opportunity is also a land of challenges.

“We did not know a soul in the States, and at first, the culture was almost as perplexing as the language,” Suarez told a crowd of more than 10,000 gathered at the TD Garden on Friday for the University of Massachusetts Boston’s 47th commencement exercises.

Chancellor J. Keith Motley presented Suarez with the 2015 JFK Award—the highest annual honor given to a University of Massachusetts Boston graduate.

Suarez grew up in Lynn, a diverse city about 10 miles north of Boston. Her experiences there spurred a commitment to social justice and a deep desire to make a difference for Latinos in Massachusetts.

A person who nominated her wrote that Suarez is “an individual and community member who sees her own social justice and intellectual goals as necessarily interwoven with the goals and struggles of others.”

Suarez studied psychology and women’s and gender studies at UMass Boston. She said she quickly found others who shared her passions.

I realized that my passion was my community—that my purpose in life was to empower Latinos like myself. I realized that the struggle my parents endured, was the struggle of all immigrants,” she told the audience.

“My desire to put the needs of others before my own was awakened and strengthened at UMass Boston. This university has had a transformative effect on my life, and I know it has done the same for you.”

One of Suarez’s many accomplishments at UMass Boston was her work on a research project through the U-54 partnership with the Dana Farber-Harvard Cancer Center. The research team examined the high burnout rate among medical interpreters and how it affects the way Latino patients and families receive care.

In an interview prior to commencement, Suarez said her research experience at UMass Boston helped crystallize her career plans. “It was really through these programs that I realized the power of research and how I could affect my community.”

Suarez will pursue a master’s degree in social work this fall at Boston University. She envisions a career at the intersection of clinical social work and policy development, with a specific focus on mental health care—an oft-ignored subject in the Latino community.

She told her fellow graduates that their UMass Boston experience has prepared them to answer society’s most challenging questions.

“We are fortunate that this university has equipped each and every one of us with the tools needed to spark a change.

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