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Rodarte ’19 Challenges Classmates to Be Change Agents

by tom campisi, managing editor


In her Class Day speech, senior Patricia Rodarte encouraged fellow Brown University graduates to go beyond borders.

Rodarte, a native of El Paso, Texas, grew up less than a mile from the Rio Grande, which marks the boundary between the United States and Mexico. She opened her speech by talking about the shared culture and interdependent ancestry and economies of El Paso and its “sister city,” Ciudad Juarez, Mexico—despite being separated by a 10-foot-tall fence. 

“There is a constant movement of people across their ports of entry…” she said. “Crossing borders is central to my region’s identity.”


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Patty Rodarte, Brown ’19, was a senior orator at commencement in May.

 

A first-generation college student, Rodarte talked lovingly and proudly about her parents, who are pastors of a small, Spanish-speaking church. Her mother is a Mexican immigrant, homemaker, and worship leader; her father works as a groundskeeper in addition to leading the congregation.

“It is people like my parents, those who make up a large proportion of our country and the world, whose resilience we must recognize and aim to understand,” Rodarte told the audience.

She also gave a shout out to other Brown families like hers.

“The families of first-generation college students, many of whom are in the audience, transcend barriers every day. I hope you feel great pride as you see your children reaping the fruit of your sacrifices,” she said.

Rodarte said she sought to inspire fellow graduates to consider how they might use their influence to help those who are marginalized socioeconomically, culturally, and racially. 

“I wanted my peers to think about the non-tangible fences in their futures, especially as they will stand on the side of privilege, in many cases, as Brown University graduates of the Ivy League,” she said. “I want my peers to look to others as measures of resilience and hard work, especially towards people who have been marginalized and overcome barriers every day. In the presence of fences of socioeconomic status and race, I want my peers to think about the role they have in that division—no matter the scale—and aim to remove that fence.”

As she looked back on her time at Brown, Rodarte expressed thanks for the role Christian Union played in helping her tear down some of the walls she had erected upon her arrival at the university.

“As a student from a low-income family, I had a difficult time acclimating to college. Christian Union helped make Brown a home for me; it gave me a community where I could interact and become family with people from vastly different backgrounds than mine,” she said. “More importantly, Christian Union gave me incredible mentors. The ministry fellows were a source of love, support, and listening during trying times. I could be vulnerable with them, because I knew the guidance they were to provide to me was rooted in God’s love.”

Laurel Copp, a Christian Union ministry fellow at Brown, was one of those mentors. She called Rodarte “a strong, compassionate woman who cares deeply about God and is serious about caring and loving everyone around her.”

“She is a beautiful example of Jesus at Brown, in Christian Union and the other communities! Patty is thoughtful and fun, which allowed her to have meaningful conversations, even about tough topics. She has a disarming personality, an infectious smile, and a willingness to tell others about Jesus.”

With Christian Union, Rodarte served on the worship team and also helped lead the Seeking God team. Rodarte pointed to Christian Union Bible courses, led by Copp, as having a tremendous impact.

“The small group setting allowed our women’s Bible course group to laugh, learn, and be joyful in each other’s presence while immersing ourselves in the Word of God,” Rodarte said. “Our Bible studies were full of discussions, deep questions, and lots of colored pens as we processed and grappled with understanding God in a different lens.”

Future plans for Rodarte include attending The Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University in 2020. Currently, she is taking a gap year before medical school in order to work, apply for scholarships, and seek funding opportunities for her education.

“I am trusting that God will provide financially if it is His will. I pray that He will give me the strength to approach this new financial chapter in my life,” she said.

Rodarte is also trusting God for the grace needed to be a doctor.

“I know that being a doctor will be difficult—the long hours and emotional impact are two aspects for which I hope to be prepared. But in this, God has given me a desire to be culturally competent and compassionate. God tells me not to lean on my own understanding, and instead trust Him with someone’s care and someone’s life.”

Copp is excited for what the future holds for Rodarte, especially as she considers the exhortation she gave fellow graduates on Class Day.

“In her graduation speech, she reminded us all of the importance of welcoming and helping those around us, especially those who are ‘the least of these.’ I loved seeing Patty stand in front of Brown University as a powerful, confident, intelligent woman of God!” Copp said. “It was a moment to celebrate all that God had done in her life over the last four years, as well as to appreciate the blessing such a woman brought to our ministry.”

As she closed her speech, Rodarte challenged classmates to step outside of their comfort zones and use their Brown degrees to become agents of change. 

“As we admire our first-year dorms once more, and wave good-bye to Bruno the bear, our goal must be to [have] conversations with people outside our circles, to share meals with those who don’t look like us, who don’t talk like us, and who don’t stand on the same side of the fence,” she said.