photo of Kristen Corlay Sanmiguel Kristen Corlay Sanmiguel
Kristen Corlay Sanmiguel was selected by her peers at Johns Hopkins University as the student speaker at the school's commencement ceremony this spring.


It’s officially cap-and-gown season.

Graduation ceremonies on campuses all over the country every weekend this month. Cakes, parties, and – most importantly – diplomas representing hundreds of hours of work over years and years.

It’s an exciting time for graduates, of course, but also for the civil engineering industry set to welcome a new crop of talent into the profession.

For Kristen Corlay Sanmiguel, A.M.ASCE, her graduation last week from Johns Hopkins University with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering has her looking forward to graduate school. This fall, she will attend Stanford University on a full scholarship, pursuing a master’s degree in sustainable design and construction.

She was selected by her peers as the student speaker for the university-wide commencement ceremony at Johns Hopkins. Her remarks both encapsulate the class of 2024’s crazy COVID college experience and inspire civil engineering graduates everywhere as they make the leap into the next phase of their careers.

Here is her May 23 commencement address:

“My name is Kristen Corlay Sanmiguel, and I would like to thank my classmates for giving me the honor of speaking today.

“At these events, we’re used to people telling us how our generation will make history. While this is meant to inspire us, as I stand here with my cap and gown, I can’t help but feel an enormous amount of pressure.

“So, I ask: What does it even mean to make history? Do you need to be on the cover of Time magazine?

“And honestly, ‘making history’ isn’t always what you expect. For instance, I thought I would remember March 13th as the joyous day I got into JHU. But that was March 2020 ... and I think we all remember what that was like. That’s the thing about life, you don’t know how the story goes, anything can happen.

“Growing up with the internet has made our generation all too familiar with the world’s uncertainty. You can go to bed one night worrying about a problem set and wake up the next day to the devastating news of the Baltimore bridge collapse, hurricanes in Mexico, or the photo of a mother hugging her child for the last time in the rubble of a hospital in Gaza.

“It can start to feel hopeless. But I’ve also found music, resiliency, and community. We must recognize that attending university is an opportunity many others have unjustly lost or never even had.

“While graduating today is an enormous achievement, I know that as JHU students we tend to put unrealistic standards on ourselves. Let’s see: have 50 publications, a Nobel Prize, and an Oscar, all by 25, right?

“The truth is, we will never know everyone’s names throughout history. However, the people who truly make an impact don’t do it to be in some textbook. They do it because they believe in what they do. They speak out for a teammate, share an original song, or take a protest sign and march to city hall.

“I know what it’s like to feel as if you’re running out of time to ‘make your mark’ in this world. But I can promise you that I already see legacies everywhere. They live in kitchen table scuff marks, spoken word poems, and life-changing 2 a.m. conversations.

photo of Kristen Corlay Sanmiguel Kristen Corlay Sanmiguel


“Classmates, remember that time is relative. I hope we feel young while dancing to 2010s music at some alumni tent party. But I equally hope we feel really old when we see future generations lead the clubs we were a part of.

“So, I’m not going to close by asking you to make history, because that’s going to look different for each and every one of us – Time magazine included, or not.

“However, I will ask you to tell people you love them, because you never know when it’s going to be the last; to stop and look at flowers and hummingbirds; and most importantly, remember that we might be the ‘new generation,’ but we are not the last generation. So when they come to us and share their vision for the world, let’s build it together.

“Class of 2024, I wish you a beautiful, purposeful, and eclectic life. ¡Muchas felicidades, lo hicimos!

“Congratulations, we did it!”

Kristen Corlay Sanmiguel (she/her) grew up in Monterrey, Mexico, and is a 2024 civil engineering graduate from Johns Hopkins University who is passionate about sustainable and resilient cities. She founded the JHU Sustainable Solutions team, which placed in the top 5 at the ASCE Student Championships last year. As an undergraduate, she did research at the Center for Systems Science and Engineering on transit accessibility metrics and water quality in Baltimore. She will be starting her master’s degree in sustainable design and construction at Stanford University on a full scholarship this fall.

You can watch Kristen's commencement speech here.