Spotlight on Alumni: Yliana Velazquez '17

Every year, Cornell sends off a group of academically and personally motivated leaders to pursue their passions in a diverse array of fields from government to medicine to fashion. Whether they are in Ithaca or thousands of miles away, as the saying goes: once a Cornellian, always a Cornellian. This spotlight series offers a glimpse into the lives of alumni from Cornell’s American Studies Program. Our first feature is the class of 2017’s Yliana Velazquez. In addition to being a first generation college student, Velazquez was part of the Posse Foundation’s first graduating class at Cornell University. The Posse Foundation is a non profit organization that provides full tuition scholarships to students with leadership potential. Now working for the organization, Yliana reflects on her time at Cornell and where that has landed her.

1. What was your favorite course in the program?

I loved so many of my courses in the American Studies program, which was the ultimate reason I decided to major. I learned so much from each of them and loved the intersectionality between departments. One of my first classes in the department, The Social & Political Context of Education in the U.S., grew my passion in education and interest in the department. It was a lot of work, but I learned so much. My favorite course outside of the department was The New Latin American State, which helped me to further understand American Studies across borders. 

2. What is your fondest memory of the program?

My fondest memory of the program was our graduation ceremony. In that moment, I saw the small community holding down the American Studies program, knowing that these people beside me kept the program and the humanities alive at Cornell. It was a proud moment, and I knew this community ultimately studied things we cared about.

3. How are you utilizing the skills you learned in the AMST program in your daily life?

The American Studies program taught me how to think critically about our society, about narratives, about impact - all in group settings to learn from one another's perspectives. The interdisciplinary nature of the program has taught me to use intersectional approaches in everything I do. It is a continuous process of learning and growing, using these foundational skills.

4. Are you currently at a place you envisioned yourself being in while in college?

I had no idea where my degree would take me and what I would end up doing four plus years after graduation. My passions for education and youth work have continued to carry me to my work today, and I continue to use the tools of an intersectional lens on my views of the world, and in my interactions with students. I'd hoped to find myself doing something I cared about, and I'm currently at that place.

5. What's one piece of advice you have for current Cornellians?

It's going to be okay! To all first-generation college students navigating Cornell, know that you deserve to be there, and you earned your spot there. Be adventurous in your mindset and in trying new experiences! 

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Yliana Velazquez