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Trans student Lucero Felicita Camarena will be UC San Diego’s All Campus Commencement student speaker

“My message to graduates is: take action by interrupting discrimination and exclusion..."
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Lucero Felicita Camarena

Lucero Felicita Camarena didn’t speak until she was six-years-old; afraid of the judgments a cruel world can have on those who feel different. Camarena was assigned a gender at birth that did not fit who she was inside and for more than 20 years she struggled to overcome an internal strife that made it difficult for her to accept herself.

Camarena has come a long way as a trans woman and she will share her story as the UC San Diego’s All Campus Commencement student speaker on June 16.

She was raised in Turlock, California which lies between Modesto and Merced and according to the United States Census Bureau has an area of only 16.9 square miles.

Now 23, Camarena hopes that her story will inspire courage in others to strengthen their resolve and eventually create change so that others won’t feel like prisoners in their own bodies. She wants people to use their truth as a powerful tool in creating social change

“I look forward to sharing my story, how I transformed my struggles into a triumphant passage to self-discovery,” Camarena said. 

Academically she didn’t fair well in her early years at school. People deemed her a “lost cause,” which only sent her deeper into social isolation. It seemed nobody would help Camarena, that is until she got to high school and a counselor, seeing her potential, helped her get out from under a "C" average.

Then another setback would leave her crestfallen and feeling downcast, University of California San Diego rejected her application because she did not meet the requirements for enrollment.

Her unwillingness to give up led her to another college and there she excelled for two years before reapplying to UC San Diego as a transfer student and this time she was in.

“That was the single most glorious moment of my life because it affirmed that I could do this, that I was worthy,” explained Camarena. “My experience at UC San Diego has brought me self-awareness and enabled me to grow beyond my imagination.”

Her legacy has only just begun, she will be the first in her family to graduate from college. Her story is unique to herself, but there are others who may feel marginalized in some way or another and get some guidance from her personal journey. 

“My message to graduates is: take action by interrupting discrimination and exclusion, especially if you aren’t harmed directly by the impact, because complacency only communicates indifference to oppression,” she said.

The young girl who wouldn’t speak, who withdrew, who didn’t succeed in school eventually became a resident assistant (RA) at UC San Diego’s Marshall College, became a voice for inclusivity and followed the college’s philosophy of “Know yourself, Check yourself, Be yourself.”

Inspired by these words and armed with newfound self-esteem, Camarena began her gender transition without shame.

“Lucero has a resilience that cannot be compared, and perseverance that allows her to bounce back from any adversity that she has faced in her life journey and through her recent transition,” said Eeman Agrama Minert, director of Residential Life and associate dean of Student Affairs at Marshall College. “She exemplifies the rawest form of hope for a generation that has the looming task of recalibrating our nation from its current state of hate, exclusion, and fear to one that knows how to be inclusive, instill love and genuine care about all people, regardless of who they are.”

Camarena will give back to the community after graduation. She will pursue a career as a physician-scientist and from there explore and help communities of color and LGBT populations overcome inequality in health care, especially the notoriously underserved trans community. 

“I want to challenge the politics of disposability, the idea that some populations deserve access to health care more than others,” said Camarena. “Communities where I come from are not treated in culturally competent ways. It is necessary to be led by people who have navigated those lived experiences.”

It’s been a long journey for Camarena and this commencement is a milestone for the students who through hard work, dedication and a little fun will finally be sent out into the world. But for some of them they will face the same judgments she had to, but now it’s a bit different for her, she is no longer silent.

“Despite fear and stigma and potential violence when people identify my gender nonconformity, I resist through speaking my truth in conditions when staying silent would be easier,” she said.

The All Campus Commencement celebration will be held at 9 a.m. on Saturday, June 16 at RIMAC Field. At the ceremony, Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla will deliver the keynote address and officially confer degrees by academic division upon more than 8,000 graduates gathered as one student body from across campus. 

The UC San Diego All Campus Commencement Ceremony Saturday, June 16: 8:30 am to 11:00 am.