April 23, 2020
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“I’m really thinking about the idea of the obstacles that one faces,” she said. “Something around the notion of the poetics of failure. … What seems to be a failure at a particular moment in your life could be the best thing that ever happened to you.”
García, who also is an associate professor in the Department of English and a past winner of the Trustee Teaching Excellence Award, is known by many students as a cheerful and uplifting presence. “I met Professor García my freshman year and was instantly drawn to her passion, energy and love for her work,” said Emily Carter ’17, an English major from New York City and one of García’s academic advisees. “She has been a constant source of support and inspiration for me. If I walk into her office feeling frazzled or stressed, I always leave feeling calm and inspired.”
The Senior Class Council solicited nominations for the Baccalaureate speaker, and members of the Class of 2017 voted on a slate of candidates. The Baccalaureate service features readings of academic and spiritual texts, but it also is a chance for the senior class to hear from a faculty or staff member of their own selection. (Shaka Smart ’99, this year’s Commencement speaker, was recommended to President Sean Decatur by a committee of faculty, staff and students.)
Senior Class President Sam Clougher ’17, an economics and history double major from Dublin, Ireland, was supportive of García’s selection. “I worked with her on the dean of students search committee, and got to know her quite well then,” he said. “She’s an incredible person; she offered to help me in many things based on 10 minutes of knowing her.”
García, who is of Puerto Rican descent, will be the first Latina to deliver a Baccalaureate address at Kenyon, and she is excited to set the precedent. “I feel absolutely thrilled that the senior class has invited me,” she said. “I feel it’s a great responsibility. … I hope that I acquit myself with honor.”
García will step down from her role as associate provost at the conclusion of this academic year. “Working with [Provost] Joe Klesner has been a privilege, working with the president has been a privilege, and I know I’m really going to miss that,” she said, while noting that she is excited to have more time to devote to her research and a book project. García, currently teaching on a reduced schedule, is also “really looking forward to coming back to the classroom full time.”
“I want to be the kind of teacher that I would have wanted to have [in college],” she said. “I have learned from the absence of mentorship, the absence of caring ... how hard it is to forge ahead without that.” This experience has shaped García’s commitment to increasing diversity among both Kenyon’s students and faculty, which she calls “the passion of my life.”
“If you have someone like you who teaches you and mentors you, you will be more successful,” she said. “It’s a win-win for everyone. … The demographic changes that this country is experiencing really make cultural competency on all our parts crucial to what we’re going to do in the future.”
Even as she leaves the provost’s office, García will remain involved in the College’s administration as the co-director of the Kenyon Educational Enrichment Program (KEEP), which helps support underrepresented students of color and first-generation students.
“I’m going to keep KEEP,” she said, laughing. “It’s a crown jewel for Kenyon. … We’ve set the standard of what this kind of program is, I think nationally.”