University of Utah senior Kirsten Caron has been chosen as the 2021 General Commencement student speaker. After putting off school to raise her child, Caron is graduating with a degree in psychology and a certificate in applied positive psychology at age 43.
“I get a little emotional talking about it because this has been a more than a 20-year journey for me,” said Caron. “I’ve been fairly close to graduating in the past but just had super unexpected things happen. I thought that was going to be the case again when the COVID-19 pandemic started, but I just wasn’t going to let that moment define me. I decided to define that moment for myself.”
Caron first attended the U when she was 18 to study film. She then got married, moved away and had her child, Skylar.
“I did try to get back into school after my divorce when Skylar was 2, but I wanted to be around more to raise my kid and I was already working full-time as a single mom, so I kept putting it off,” said Caron.
A few years ago, at age 12, Caron’s child came out as non-binary. Caron, who identifies as a queer woman, was fully supportive and says they had many knowledgeable, supportive doctors and therapists, but she noticed there was a lot missing in terms of legislation, school policies and things that could help her child navigate their gender journey.
“I was repeatedly told how rare it was to see a parent who is excited about their child experiencing this and that usually, parents don’t know what to do,” said Caron. “That really inspired me to return to school and just completely switch gears from what I had been studying as a teenager and go into the science of psychology.”
This time around, Caron says her higher education experience has been completely different. While stressful to be working full-time, raising a teenager and taking 16-18 credits each semester during a pandemic, Caron is excited to be entering the field of psychology to help children and their families with experiences similar to hers and Skylar’s.
“It’s a great moment to be getting into this particular field because there’s a lot of exciting research that’s happening and we’re understanding so much more about sex and gender,” said Caron. “I’m planning to attend graduate school and start practicing therapy and my ultimate goal is to be a therapist for transgender teens and their families.”
When it came time to write her speech for commencement, Caron said she wanted to focus on the resilience and bravery of her graduating class.
“I’m so proud of all of us for being able to navigate this stuff that has been big, heavy and dramatic,” said Caron. “It has affected everyone in so many ways and for us to achieve this in spite of it all is huge.”
The student speaker is chosen by a selection committee comprised of students, staff and faculty. Baccalaureate students graduating with honors and students nominated by their colleges were invited to submit an essay for consideration. Caron was chosen out of 43 students.
You can watch Caron’s speech during the virtual commencement on May 6, 2021, at 7 p.m. on utah.edu/live.