Senior Class President Steffi Antony was stunned when she heard actress and philanthropist Eva Longoria would be delivering this year’s commencement speech.
“When President [Teresa] Amott first told us, I couldn’t believe it,” Antony said. “I was in shock.”
The news was released in a campus-wide email addressed by Amott on March 27, in which Amott detailed the reasons why Longoria fit the college’s values. As written in Amott’s email, Longoria’s accomplishments reveal her “appreciation for the arts, critical thinking, resilience, the pursuit of lifelong learning, and a commitment to social justice and community service.”
Most often recognized for her leading role on the television series “Desperate Housewives,” Longoria has also directed episodes of the popular series “Jane the Virgin” and “Black-ish.” Less known to the general public, however, is Longoria’s wide array of philanthropic work.
In addition to founding Eva’s Heroes, a charity that aims to support children with developmental disabilities, Longoria is also the founder of the Eva Longoria Foundation, a charity that works to close the education gap impacting Latinas nationwide.
For senior Yaneza Aguiñaga, who plans to pursue a career in education after graduation, Longoria’s appearance at Knox is a major source of excitement.
“To be able to leave with a strong, successful Latina woman kind of talking me out and pumping me up for my real life after Knox, was really exciting for me,” Aguiñaga said. “Kind of just what she stands for and what she does, got me really excited for the fact that she’s going to be our speaker.”
While the commencement speaker is chosen by the Knox College Board of Trustees, Antony and her fellow class officers were responsible for relaying to the board what the Class of 2017 hoped to see from this year’s speaker. In an online survey distributed to members of the senior class, students had the opportunity to give their input.
After a total of 156 students took the survey, Antony noted that the results indicated that seniors wanted someone in the discipline of arts and entertainment, and did not want someone who was white, male, or working as a politician.
Considering commencement speakers are not paid by the college, but rather given an honorary degree, the Board of Trustees often relies on an alumni connection to book a speaker. Vice President for Communications Megan Scott told TKS in an email that the college does not have permission to share the connection at this time.
Given the positive student response she’s seen since the initial announcement, Antony believes that much of senior class is satisfied with the Board of Trustee’s decision.
“Everyone was so happy,” she said. “I think a common pattern that I saw that people were really excited about, is that it’s a woman of color.”
After United States Senator Dick Durbin was chosen to speak at last year’s commencement ceremony, senior Zuleyma Martinez was expecting a similar choice.
“I seriously never thought that Knox would get a Latina, especially a woman,” Martinez said. “It was just shocking, I never expected that.”
After experiencing a lack of representation throughout her four years at Knox, Aguiñaga is looking forward to hearing from Longoria who has also grown up Mexican-American. She believes Longoria will have a lot to offer the senior class, specifically in areas that white commencement speakers may not have been able to touch in the past.
“I’m proud to be walking at this graduation,” Martinez said. “Seeing someone that’s a woman and a Latina so high up, gives me hope and it’s something that just makes me want to keep going.”