Rachel Luna: A Surprise Speaker
By: Darby Evans
An unexpected guest brought tears to many eyes at the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education Commencement this summer. At the invitation of Fr. Tim Scully, C.S.C., Rachel Luna, an 18-year-old recent graduate of Cantwell-Sacred Heart of Mary High School in Montebello, CA, closed the ceremony with an eloquent expression of gratitude for the ACE teachers who have greatly impacted her education.
To accommodate educators serving in schools during the traditional May Notre Dame commencement, ACE holds a commencement ceremony for the Teaching Fellows and Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program graduates in July. This year, Shavar Jeffries, the president of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), headlined the event as the keynote speaker. He wowed the audience with a poignant personal story about the difficulties of growing up in Newark, New Jersey, and losing his mother to an abusive relationship. He also shared the role Catholic education played in his journey to academic and career success.
However, his was not the only speech that moved audience members. After the graduates received their diplomas and the commencement was drawing to a close, ACE co-founder and Master of Ceremonies Fr. Scully said he would defer his closing statements to another speaker.
A young woman ascended the stage, composed and self-assured. She identified herself as Rachel Luna, future freshman at San Francisco State University. She conveyed that she had traveled halfway across the United States to see some of her ACE teachers graduate.
In a subsequent interview, Rachel says, “The [ACE teachers at my school] were great teachers … and I got close with them through hanging in their rooms during lunch; that’s a very common thing at my school… They’ve been there for me no matter what… I thought that they were such a big part of my life, that I should go out and see them graduate.”
During her speech, Rachel mentioned how, in her experience, ACE teachers taught with dynamism and enthusiasm, and that these same teachers also showed personal interest in her success. She said that the personal attention they showed her eventually encouraged Rachel to become the first in her family to enroll in college.
“ACE teachers are more excited about teaching and more lively in the classroom,” Rachel says. “They want their students to genuinely learn the content that they’re teaching and not just write it down. They actually want them to understand it… They really care about their students.”
At the close of her remarks, Rachel thanked the parents in the audience for supporting their children as they taught in schools around the country. Then, “on behalf of all the students who could not attend the commencement,” Rachel thanked all the educators graduating from the ACE program. She assured the graduates that they were changing many lives, just like hers.
Many in the audience were moved to tears.
“I wasn’t that nervous—maybe it’s just because I’m so familiar with [ACE] and I know how kind everyone is within the program,” Rachel says. “I was very honored to be in front of so many people... I think it was easily the best weekend I’ve ever had.”
After Rachel’s speech, Fr. Scully took the podium once more. Before the closing prayer, he proclaimed that he would admit Rachel as the first member of ACE Teaching Fellows Cohort 27.
Rachel says she is open to the idea.
Want to make an impact on students like Rachel? Become an ACE Teaching Fellow. Learn more at ace.nd.edu/teach and request more information.