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Powerful Words from Machaela, YWI ’19

The following speech was written and delivered by Machaela, a 2019 graduate of the Young Women’s Initiative, for a Women’s Fund press conference in March, 2022.

Good morning everyone, it’s so nice to speak with you all today.

I’m Machaela Cruz, a high school senior and graduate of the Young Women’s Advisory Council’s cohort of 2018-2019. I participated throughout my freshmen year of high school at the ripe age of 14, and the second youngest in my group, only by a few months.

Back then, I had goals that felt more like dreams, a voice that was often whispered, and a mindset in desperate need of growth. I had first walked into this very room, a timid girl, very unsure of herself, but I stand in front of you now an activist, a scholar, a learner, a leader, and a proud confident woman, all of which I can attribute to YWAC. Most of the time in life, you’re not aware of how life-changing, or character-developing something is until you look back on it, well after it happened. Whether it be an influential person, place, or event.

Well, YWAC is not like that at all. I could feel the change thrumming throughout the room, throughout my own body and mind while participating in conversations I never thought I would’ve been welcomed to at my age, and identifying with the meanings of words I had never even heard of, like intersectionality. I was surrounded by powerful women and girls, who at each meeting made me brave through their stories, compassionate through their listening, and determined through their pure will.

Through the experience in awarding grants, I learned not only the skills to do so, but the lesson that change is caused by people, individuals, women like myself, that I am a powerful force to be reckoned with as soon as I decide I am, so I decided I am.

Following YWAC, I continued to advocate for mental health in my school system, but with a new ferocity that led to my health department being adopted into our charter schools internationally. I led my school’s model congress and UN teams where I won awards at the national level because I knew my words mattered and I acted like it. I founded a local chapter of the High School Democrats of America, to help other Springfield students learn the power of their voice, especially in our democracy, and then use it for change. I am now the current president of my school’s student government.

Most recently, I’ve been accepted to my dream school, Brown University, where I plan to major in cognitive neuroscience so I can further aid my communities in the fight for mental health recognition and advocacy.

The girl who first walked in this room 4 years ago would’ve been too scared to dream most of these wonderful things. The girl who walked out a year later had a vision, and had the confidence to go after it. Thank you YWAC, and the women’s fund for shaping the woman I am today. I’m so proud of her, and I know you are too.