A portrait of Jazmin Diaz.
Jazmin Diaz ’17

In 2013, Wagner College joined the national Bonner Program and invited incoming first-year students to apply to become Bonner Leaders at Wagner.

The Bonner Program provides diverse low-income, underrepresented, and first-generation students with the opportunity to attend college, while engaging their talents in building and supporting communities.

In 2017, 11 Wagner Bonner Leaders graduated after four years in the program. They completed a range of majors, including international affairs, microbiology, history, English, and French. One was admitted to Harvard Medical School and another to Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine.

Bonner Leader Jazmin Diaz, who completed a double major in Spanish and anthropology, is now working in rural Peru for MOCHE, Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to helping impoverished communities, preserving archaeological sites, and promoting research and education on Peru’s cultural heritage. The following is an excerpt from her graduation speech describing her experience in the Bonner Program.

“Our connections with other people, identities, and shared humanity are an infinite source of knowledge. If the most important thing we have is each other, what story will you tell? What story will your life tell?”

“I entered Wagner with an innocent desire to make a difference for the greater social good. But I soon realized I was just beginning to write my story. Stories of my peers, residents of Staten Island, and forgotten members of our society soon began to shape me.

“Coming from Oregon, I was shocked to see the lingering destruction of Hurricane Sandy as I spoke with struggling residents about Staten Island recovery efforts. The hurricane disrupted their lives when least expected. They lost everything in a matter of hours. From them, I learned resilience.

“I walked the streets of Port Richmond and gathered stories from immigrant families on how they struggled to make ends meet with the high cost of living in New York. From them, I learned strength.

“In the classroom, I studied Spanish and anthropology. My love for the humanities allows me to be intellectually creative and better understand human behavior. My professors challenged me to think beyond what we see. From them, I learned how to question the unknown.

“Most importantly, I learned from my fellow Bonners. They showed me determination as they pursued their dreams in the midst of challenges. They showed me grit, taking on extra jobs and loans in order to pay for their education. They showed me how to love, because even when it was hard to reconcile our differences, they forgave. We defined community as we addressed national and campus concerns through dialogue.

A photo of a number of students lying in a circle on the grass.
Wagner's first class of Bonner Leaders.

“Each of us matters to this world. We have sadly become separated by culturally constructed categories, but we were meant to live alongside each other.

“A civic education recognizes that knowledge isn’t constrained to formal institutions. The phrase ‘the world as your classroom’ comes to fruition in a civic-minded education. Wagner’s commitment to civic education enriches our knowledge with interpersonal relationships and the capacity to build a greater society.

“Our connections with other people, identities, and shared humanity are an infinite source of knowledge. If the most important thing we have is each other, what story will you tell? What story will your life tell?”

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