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Bryant Rivera Cortez delivers Welcome Message to Honors College Class of 2026

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For the first time in years, the Honors College hosted its first, full, and in-person Convocation Ceremony to welcome the incoming class of Honors Terps on Thursday, August 25, 2022. The event program featured spectacular Honors students offering their insights and wisdom from different vantage points—as current students and as alumni—as well as inspiring words from Prof. Peter Mallios (Executive Director of the Honors College), Dr. Traci Dula (Associate Director of the Honors College), Dean William Cohen (Associate Provost and Dean for Undergraduate Studies), and other esteemed faculty and staff of the Honors College living-learning programs.

The keynote address was delivered by Prof. Darryll Pines, President of the University of Maryland.

DCC is overwhelmingly proud to share that Bryant Rivera Cortez, of the DCC Mu class, was selected as an Honors College Student Representative to share his remarks in a Welcome Message to the incoming Honors College Class of 2026. He was introduced by DCC Interim Director Dr. Jessica H. Lu. A transcript of their speeches follow below:

Remarks by Dr. Jessica H. Lu:

Thank you, Peter! And good evening, everyone! My name is Dr. Jessica Lu, and I am the interim Director of the Design Cultures & Creativity living-learning program.

I decided to forgo my typical all-green-everything DCC wardrobe tonight, in favor of Terp Honors red, because tonight is about all of us, gathering on our first night together as one community. And, as Dr. Mallios has just reminded us, it's something we cannot take for granted. I could not be more honored to enjoy this privilege tonight, of being able to say out loud to each and every one of you: congratulations, welcome to the University of Maryland, and to the Honors College!

I am also the humble recipient of another distinct honor this evening—the chance to introduce you to one of the most compelling, vibrant, unforgettable young people I have ever met—and I've been teaching on this campus for 11 years. I met this DCC student in early Spring 2021, just after he was admitted to the program. Even before he arrived on campus, he was attending open houses and DCC events, and I started to see very quickly how special he is. Unlike many of us, he did not get to enjoy the comforts and privileges of a safe, happy childhood, and by the time he reached high school, he was very familiar with the act of searching—for connection, for home, for family. For an environment where he could enjoy and be fully embraced for his whole self, in all its parts— the parts that simultaneously love biological science, research, and storytelling, as well as math, drag culture, tinkering, fashion, dancing, psychology, baking, and drawing.

When DCC’s staff read his application a year and a half ago, it was clear to us that DCC could be a safe and supportive place for him, and that he too would enrich our community with the kind of spirit we thrive upon. I went back earlier this week and looked at the notes we kept while reviewing applications and, next to his name, it said in all bold letters: “We want this student in DCC!”

DCC, ultimately, is a creative program full of designers, artists, makers, tinkerers, and builders. But the most important thing we hope to help our students to create is a life. Meaningful. Joyful. Full. Bright. And all yours.

And this student, more than any other I know, has taken that charge to heart. Since the moment he stepped on campus last year, he has been creating the life he always wanted, the life he has always craved.

He is writing his own story.

And I can hardly keep up. He is a member of DCC’s Student Council, actively building the kind of warm and welcoming community that so many students need. He is an Honors College Ambassador, helping high school students figure out what kind of future feels right for them. He is a member of the College of Education Senate, working with the Diversity and Equity committee to advocate for more equitable policies and practices in the college, and in education more broadly. He is a member of Gymkana, learning how to defy gravity on aerial silks. And he is a Banneker/Key Scholar, heading into his sophomore year with a mathematically perfect 4.0, and taking full advantage of the university’s support to earn a degree in Middle School Education so that he can go on to be a teacher, carrying on the legacy of his own 9th grade teacher who was one of the first people in his life to teach him what trust and safety could feel like.

And, best of all, he is enjoying every moment of it. And I am just grateful to be able to witness his shine, lighting up everyone and everything around him. In many ways, he is here today because of a teacher who cared. And he might not realize, that many of the teachers and staff here tonight show up every day, because of students like him.

Honors Terps, it is my absolute joy to introduce to you for the first time, but certainly not the last: Bryant Rivera Cortez.

Welcome Message by Bryant Rivera Cortez:

Thank you Dr. Lu for that wonderful introduction! I would like to take a moment to thank President Pines, Dr. Mallios, Dr. Dula and all the Honors staff and faculty for being here today. I also wanted to give a very special thank you to y’all. I know some of you, myself included, just moved in a couple hours ago so thank you for taking time out of your big day to be here with us as we welcome you into the Honors Terp family. 

Speaking of your big day, I know it has been absolutely exhausting yet exciting. You have survived the long lines at the Xfinity center, you’ve found your dorm building, you’ve stuffed all your belongings into your room which will probably take a good 3-5 business days to organize, you’ve most likely already spoken to at least one stranger, and you’ve found your way to the Clarice. That’s not even a quarter of what you’ve most likely accomplished today so I think we should take a few seconds to just breathe.  

When I instruct you to do so I want you all to breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 5 another seconds, and then exhale through your mouth for you guessed it 5 seconds. But first let’s make sure our feet are flat on the ground about shoulder width apart and bring those shoulders down from your ears. Make sure your back is straight and feel free to close your eyes if you feel comfortable doing so. Everyone ready?

Breathe in 1… 2… 3… 4… 5, and hold.

*Wait for 5 seconds*

Now exhale through your mouth, 5… 4… 3… 2… 1.

Thank you so much for doing that little exercise with me, now you can go back to how ever you were sitting, but as you get comfortable I want you to take a moment to think about the last time you took a few seconds to just breathe. Better yet when’s the last time you felt like you could breathe.

The world around us is constantly moving and UMD isn’t any different. During your first year you already have access to incredible classes, literally a club for anything, research opportunities with amazing professors and much much more. However, it’s very easy to feel like you’re drowning in this massive ocean of opportunities and unfortunately I know every single one of you is already too familiar with the feeling. 

It is not easy to get here. A year ago today I was in your exact same spot and I know some days it all seemed impossible. I jumped over some of the exact same hurdles you had to just to get here and although I may not know every single challenge you had to conquer, I know every single one of you is a fighter. You clawed your way here and you will continue to put in the work until you reach your goals, but I’m here today not only to welcome you but also remind you to be kind to yourself.

I know you’ll never stop pushing that finish line further and further away any time you reach it, but as you do take time to celebrate. Life is not easy and the days where everything seems impossible won’t stop coming. So take time to cherish anything you accomplish. Whether it is getting out of bed, getting a good grade on an exam, eating three meals a day or landing an internship, take time to celebrate because each one of those victories carry significant weight. Sometimes it may take all of your energy, efforts and motivation to get to a victory but as you put in the work remember to take time to breathe.

Whether that is physically taking a few deep breaths, spending time with your friends, visiting home, going on a date with your significant other or taking time to do something you love, do it. You need that time away from your stressors to just breathe and I know that is so much easier to say than to do but every single one of you is more than capable of finding those pockets of air. Even if some days you can’t do it alone, that is okay because there is always at least one person out there willing to offer a helping hand. You’ve made it this far and I know you’ll make it even further than you ever imagined. Congratulations on winning every battle it took to get here, especially the ones that happened in the shadows, and on behalf of the Honors College student body, welcome to UMD and to Honors. Here’s to a year filled with kindness, celebrating and—of course—breathing. Thank you.