By Mathew Tavarez ‘22 News reporter
On Wednesday, September 30, Mercersburg experienced another “first,” conducting its first ever “Monday Night” Lecture through Zoom. Accompanied by a lot of laughter and energy, YA and graphic novel author Gabby Rivera introduced herself as an amazing, passionate Puerto Rican from the Bronx who just so happens to be a part of the LGBTQ++ community. She shared her family’s story of moving to the mainland United States and the difficulties of trying to make a living. Her personal story was one that few would normally tell to 500 strangers.
It is well known at Mercersburg that guest speakers leave their audiences talking. Rivera’s words left Mercersburg students discussing the trials and triumphs of her life and struggle for expression. Madi Norris ‘21 stated, “Rivera has touched the hearts and minds of the POC in our community… She has started a fire in people to speak their mind and follow their passions, no matter race or sexuality.” Rivera assured the people of color and members of the LGBTQ++ community in the audience that their experiences are worth sharing and they are capable of accomplishing great things.
Rivera’s impact was not limited to the student population here at Mercersburg. English teacher and newly named interim diversity coordinator Leela Woody said, “I hope that Gabby’s lecture allowed our faculty to think about the importance of considering experiences that are not hegemonic. It is vital that we consider voices that are alternative to dominant narratives when we create our curriculum and run discussions in our classroom. Gabby illustrated how important representation is and what healthy representation and empowerment can result in, particularly for our students that hold marginalized identities.” Students need the support of faculty who know that every student arrives to campus with experiences and from completely different backgrounds. Those perspectives are beneficial to class discussions and depth of awareness.
Rivera’s personable attitude and energy distinguished her immediately from other guest speakers. Even through the lens of Zoom, it was easy for the young audience to connect to her within minutes. Monique Garcia ‘22 stated, “In the meeting that LHSU (Latinx and Hispanic Student Union) had with her prior I mentioned that I would like to be a writer and without asking me what experience I had, she told me to do it! And even with all the backlash she gets from society for being a butch Hispanic lesbian, she remains true to who she is; I admire that.” Rivera laughed and interacted with students in ways that speakers seldom do.
Without even being on campus, Rivera connected with Mercersburg and the people of the community. She challenged her audience to accept her in her whole self and in doing so made herself a role model for Latinx students, those of the LGBTQ++ community, and anyone who wants to live authentically. She encouraged us to navigate the challenges of life boldly, and continues to share that message broadly through her “love notes for queer kids of color.”