The University community came together to celebrate the achievements of members of the Class of 2022 from underrepresented backgrounds. As part of the celebration, an alumna who is now a dedicated mental health advocate, business owner, and public speaker offered her encouragement and advice.
May 16, 2022
When Adrielys Gómez ’22 was new to the University of New Haven, she “found a home” in the University’s Myatt Center for Diversity and Inclusion. Passionate about supporting and inspiring her fellow Chargers, she offered encouragement to her classmates as part of the University’s Celebration of Excellence.
A diversity peer educator for the Myatt Center and a proud first-generation student, Gómez became the first member of her family to earn a college degree when she accepted her bachelor’s degree in economics at Spring Commencement. As part of her remarks at the Celebration of Excellence, she urged her classmates to take risks.
“Don’t let imposter syndrome get in the way of your accomplishments,” said Gómez, who hails from Puerto Rico. “Don’t be afraid to try new things – to apply to a job, to live in the city you’ve always wanted to live in. You are not an imposter. You can accomplish anything you put your mind to.”
‘With vulnerability comes power’
A University tradition, the Celebration of Excellence celebrates and recognizes the accomplishments of multicultural students and those from underrepresented backgrounds – such as first-generation students and those who identify as Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) – and their contributions to the University community.
“This is a celebration of excellence for a reason,” said Sofia Martinez ’22, a first-generation student, communication major, and president of the Undergraduate Student Government Association. “It takes strength every day to be in the space we’re in. A lot of us look at the big picture of what we want to do, but sometimes it takes a very small step to get there.”
As part of the celebration, students and staff spoke to members of the Class of 2022, offering their words of advice and encouragement.
“Your experiences deepen your knowledge and expand your horizons,” said Ophelie Rowe-Allen, Ed.D., dean of students and chief student affairs officer. “I hope you’ll share your story. It is an act of vulnerability, and it can be scary, but with vulnerability comes power. There will be roadblocks, but obstacles and regrets don’t have to stop you.”
‘You can make a difference in the world’
The ceremony included an inspirational keynote speech from Ivy Watts ’15, a former standout on the Chargers women’s track and field team who earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University. Now a full-time motivational speaker and blogger, she is an ardent mental health advocate.
Watts, who joined the ceremony virtually from her home in Massachusetts with her four-month-old daughter, congratulated students and shared her own story. As a Charger, despite her success on the track and in the classroom, she struggled with anxiety and depression. Despite graduating with accolades, she felt like she wasn’t good enough, and she felt guilty.
After earning her master’s degree in public health from Boston University and working for what was then Partners Healthcare, a nonprofit based in Boston, she started her own business. Four years later, her motivational speaking business, Ivy Watts Speaks, and her blog, Beautifully Simply You, are thriving. A sought-after public speaker, she travels the country to speak to audiences that include students, athletes, and parents.
“I was empowered by my experiences at the University of New Haven to leave my job and create my own business,” she told students. “When I changed my major to psychology, I learned to pivot, and that helped me later on. It is an honor to come back to the University to tell my story. I take every opportunity to give back to the school that changed my life.”
‘The importance of this moment’
Encouraging students to prioritize their own mental health and well-being, Watts said she is grateful to now be having more open conversations about mental health – something that, even in the recent past, was not often discussed. She encouraged members of the Class of 2022 to make their well-being a priority – offering them affirmations that she encouraged them to use each day.
“Remember, ‘I am worthy,’ ‘I am capable,’ and ‘I am good enough,’” she encouraged. “The power of positivity is incredible. Also, you can make a difference in the world.”
Mya Oliwa ’23, president of the University’s First-Generation Student Association, echoed Watts’s words of encouragement as she offered her support to her graduating classmates.
“Don’t be afraid to do something new,” she said. “You never know when opportunity will await you. It is also okay to take a break. Your mental health matters.”
As part of the ceremony, graduating seniors were recognized by name, and they received pins. Carrie Robinson, M.S., director of the Myatt Center and a first-generation student, acknowledged the challenges students have faced outside the classroom – from violence across the country to COVID-19. She praised the Class of 2022 for their accomplishments and urged them to celebrate everything they have achieved.
“The faculty and staff here understand the importance of this moment,” she said. “We celebrate with you, and we congratulate you.”