A 2019 graduate's message: Give back to the community that gave to you
As the Class of 2019 graduates, remember that "life is not running away from you"
(Editor's note: Please note that the names of two mental health professionals were used when University graduate Jax Skye first gave these remarks on May 7 at the Lavender Graduation ceremony. In order to ensure that patient-doctor confidentiality is maintained, we've chosen to take the names of the doctors out in the text of Jax's speech. These medical health practitioners are noted in parentheses as "mental health professionals.")
When I first set foot on the University of Nevada, Reno's campus in 2015, I could not have predicted where I was going. But I knew wherever I was going would be better than where I had been.
I was depressed, I was lonely, and I was only three weeks sober. Through my youthful naivety, I was certain of one thing: My thirst for knowledge. I pursued my sole certainty and reaped fruitful benefits.
I do not come from the type of background one expects to produce a successful academic. I am a first-generation college student from a low-income family.
My biological father was a violent individual involved in crime, drugs, and gambling. To put it bluntly, my life was hellish before I attended University.
I never expected to live to the age at which I could pursue my goals. However, I found salvation in my myself and in learning.
I would like to share with you all some of the lessons I have learned on this journey in hopes these lessons can help your journey as well.
When you hit rock bottom, the only way left to go is up. Let me tell you, my first day of college sure felt like rock bottom.
I began my day at 7:30 AM in the main lecture hall of the Davidson Math and Science Center impatiently awaiting my professor to begin educating me in general chemistry. It was all downhill from there after learning I had homework my very first day of college.
I wrecked my bike on the way to my first day at my new job, spilled spaghetti all over my brand new scrubs, was late to all 3 of my other classes, and spent the latter half of my day stress crying. Stress crying became a common motif in my life that year. College would not be as easy as I expected.
The rest of my first semester followed similarly. I struggled with mental illness, maintaining my sobriety, making friends in a new city, navigating the complexities of dating as a queer person, discovering my identity, and on top of everything else, I missed my mom back in Vegas.
Luckily, I discovered I didn't have to do this alone. The support network the University of Nevada has provided me allowed me to achieve my dreams.
The resident director of my first year residence hall, Marykatherine, encouraged me to seek mental health help through the Counseling Center. Although I was apprehensive at first, my therapists changed my life.
Without the guidance and support of (two mental health professionals), I would not be a functional individual. In addition to helping me improve my mental health, (one of the mental health professionals) wrote my letter in support of beginning hormone replacement therapy.
(The second mental health professional) wrote my letter in support of gender confirmation surgery.
I also found support through on-campus organizations such as the Queer Student Union and Sex-Pos. I have met amazing friends who have become a second family to me.
Once I felt supported by my friends, my community, and my University I was able to achieve true fulfillment.
If you asked my 18 year old self if he could achieve fulfillment in life, he would have laughed and walked the other direction. Through a number of trials and tribulations, the last 4 years have brought me unimaginable flourishment after a series of realizations:
First, through education, we achieve enlightenment. Famous rational philosopher Rene Descartes once wrote, "cogito ergo sum," translated from Latin to read, "I think, therefore I exist." In his Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes defends the idea of radical doubt.
Our senses can fail us. We cannot trust them. Through this uncertainty, we can know one thing: there is thinking and a being must be doing this thinking. We think. We exist.
Extrapolating this notion to my own life, education has provided me a clearer lens through which I could view all facets of existence. Professors and colleagues at the University of Nevada have pushed my mind towards critical thinking that has become natural and has improved my life.
Expanding my thoughts and opening my mind to new ideas and experiences has allowed me to see the world in a far richer way than before.
Second, give back to the community that gave to you. Our support networks be it friends, family, or colleagues, have helped us up when we have fallen. They have supported us when we felt weak.
For me, my family has been one of the most influential aspects to my success in higher education. Today, they are my biggest motivator.
My mom has always been my rock. Through thick and thin, she has stood by my side encouraging me to be the best version of myself.
As a child, she played at the park with me nearly every day. She allowed me to read the same books on astrophysics over and over to her and smiled with every sentence. She met my obnoxious teen angst with love and compassion.
She even answers my fourth call of the day as an adult to inform her that I just ate chicken nuggets.
Some of my favorite memories from childhood include the wonderful times I spent with my Grammy and Opa. Mom and I would frequently drive to visit them in Denver on the weekends. I often reflect on my favorite memories like eating blueberry pancakes with Opa in the mornings, perusing the mall with Grammy, or taking family trips to the zoo or the museum .
The support of new-found family has also made a profound impact.
My step-dad, Jerry, has taught me what it means to be loved and cared for by a father figure. He never fails to share with me laughs, advice, and great new music.
I could not have gotten as far as I have without my best friend, Julia. She was my biggest supporter in my transition. She gave me my first chest binder when I came out to her as a transman. She was at my doctor's appointment when I got my first testosterone injection. She was the first face I saw waking up from my most recent surgery.
I most certainly could not have made it through surgery without the support of my second family, the Swains. Ever since I met them, I have felt loved, cherished, and a sense of belonging. Glynn, Sherrie, and Jacques have made a more profound impact on my life than they ever could imagine. I will always treasure memories of random antics Glynn and I have embarked on and wonderful conversations we have shared.
A support network is not a one way relationship. Sometimes, it feels like it will take a lifetime to give to my loved ones what they have given to me.
It is important to give back to our family, friends, and community for everything they have done for us. We are still so young and the power by which we can support others will grow over time. For now, I hope I can have positive impact on those around me.
Next, seek balance in everything you do. Your best stops being your best when it becomes too much to bear. Let that sink in for a moment.
We live in a society that encourages overworking to the point of misery. I did not get to where I am today by forcing myself beyond my means or beyond my abilities.
If I was tired while studying, I went to sleep. If I could not concentrate on my course readings, I would watch some Netflix instead. Some days I just didn't want to show up to class, so I didn't. It's okay to put you first.
Sit back and watch the sunset. Take it slow. Although it may seem it at times, life is not running away from you.
If you have ever been to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, you've heard the phrase, "one day at a time." Sometimes even one day is too much and we must take one hour at a time or even a minute at a time.
Take a moment to breathe, to recognize how far you have come, and to observe the beauties around you. Every night I can, I watch the sunset and remind myself of the things I am so grateful for in life. Every moment mustn't be productive.
Finally, live authentically. I stand in front of you today unafraid to be vulnerable, to share who I am and who I have been. Even a year ago, I could not have imagined showing a single person pre-transition photos of myself. Even the thought made my skin crawl.
That little girl on the screen a moment ago is still part of my identity; she always will be. She has shaped the man I have become today.
And it's amazing how my insecurities melted away when I lived outwardly as I have always felt inside. I encourage all of you to live out and proud.
The challenges we have faced as LGBTQIA+ students are enumerable and at times seemed insurmountable. We were not handed an easy set of cards. Our schools did not teach us how to play this game. But, we learned. We grew. We have done things we would have never thought possible. We have done so through our own strength.
When we graduated high school, gay marriage was not legal. I always said that I would never marry until marriage equality was a reality for all Americans. I guess I have to find a new excuse to stay a bachelor forever.
When my biological father found out that I was queer, the only words he spoke were, "I hope nobody in college finds out." He did not speak to me for weeks after.
It's funny because 4 and a half years later I stand in front of all of you, discussing my queer identity at Lavender Graduation. I'm certain I'm not the only one who has heard similar words, felt similar pain.
Although my heart breaks for others who have experienced this hardship, let this be the flame that ignites your drive to excel and the fuel that keeps it burning.
Do not let your words be silenced. Do not let others tell you who you are. Only you know who you are. Live freely.
Let the ground you start on become the foundation by which you build the steps to your dreams. We all start somewhere. It's okay if that somewhere is not grand.
4 years ago, I could have never expected my life to turn out how it has. Beginning this August, I will be pursuing my Ph.D. in neuroscience at the age of 22 in one of the best programs in the world. I have had the privilege to fully transition during my time at the University of Nevada.
I have loved. I have lost. I have made beautiful friends and family that will stick with me for a lifetime. Through joys, tears, anxieties, and successes, we have made it.
Congratulations. We have and will continue to show the world we hold the reigns of life in our hands and our hands only. THANK YOU.