Speaking from the heart

by Catalina Myers  |   

Tuan Graziano in a green UAA shirt
Tuan Graziano, UAA’s 2023 undergraduate commencement speaker, has one last call to action before he and his peers walk across the stage as graduates: to thank the friends, family, faculty and staff who helped them across the finish line to graduation day. (Photo by James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage)

Community has been at the heart of Tuan Graziano’s undergraduate career at UAA. The spring 2023 student commencement speaker has been volunteering in various capacities since high school, and once at UAA, his sense of serving his community and advocating for his fellow students grew.

“A mentor and I were discussing what it means to have and provide genuine support and we came up with a really cool quote that still resonates with me today,” Graziano said. “What do you want to do and how can I help? I think about that when I am advocating for others and it’s been such a guiding principle in my life and the work that I do.”

When Graziano wasn’t studying for his economics major or political science minor, you could find him on the second floor of the Student Union in the Union of Students of the University of Alaska Anchorage (USUAA) offices. His terms as USUAA student body vice president and president came on the heels of major university budget cuts, and an unprecedented global pandemic — a tall order for any leader to handle — let alone a student. But Graziano’s deeply rooted beliefs in public service and advocating for those without a voice navigated him through those uncertain times, allowing him to continue providing a voice for his peers and other interested stakeholders at UAA. 

While Graziano admits that much of his drive to succeed has come from within, he cannot reflect on his collegiate experience without recognizing his peers, the faculty, staff and, most importantly, his family and friends who helped shape his story at UAA. Whether in the classroom, with his peers in USUAA or participating in Model UN, much of his positive experience had to do with the community of students, faculty and staff that genuinely care about UAA.

It’s the theme he’s framing his commencement speech around, that while the individual student needs the internal grit, determination and drive to do the hard work to cross the stage at commencement, credit is also due to the “village” that helped make crossing the finish line a little bit easier. 

“It’s important to recognize the people in your life that have helped make you the special person that you are,” said Graziano. “It’s all the wonderful people in your life that you’re connected to, that are just as excited for your success that has culminated in your graduation day. People are a powerful force and it’s amazing how much you can achieve in life with the help of others.”

Graziano said this belief was modeled to him early on in life, watching his father open their home to family, friends and anyone who needed a hand, a kitchen table and a listening ear. He describes himself as someone who wears his heart on his sleeve and used to feel uncomfortable about caring so deeply for others, but as he continues to grow and learn has come to realize that his compassionate and caring nature truly is a strength.

“It’s not always easy, sometimes I can feel myself becoming jaded about the world,” Graziano said. “But then I see the good that others are doing and experience this positivity and I feel like I need to pass on the wholesomeness I received to others.”

Graziano encourages his fellow graduates to keep looking for the good in others and to be the light if the world seems dark. He said sometimes he feels self-conscious about his outlook on life, but by volunteering and working hard to advocate for those without a voice, he realizes this work is important. After graduation, Graziano plans to take a “real vacation” as he’s worked a job since he was a freshman in high school. He hopes to eventually continue exploring the political science field and live abroad, ultimately landing work in international relations. Still, he is content to take a breather and travel.

As he closes out his four years at UAA, Graziano has one last call to action, not only for his fellow graduates but the entire university community, and that is to take a little time out of your day to remind and thank the people you care about for being a positive influence in your life. 

“Whether it be your friends, family, professors, staff or whoever you want to recognize, just say ‘Hey, I appreciate you,’” said Graziano. “Thank you for all that you’ve done.”

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