Miguel R. Saenz received his Associate of Arts and Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography and his Master of Arts in communications and media technologies from Academy of Art University.
He was born in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Saenz served in the Marine Corps for over 20 years as an Artillery Cannoneer Crewman and as a Marine Corps Drill Instructor. He retired at the rank of Gunnery Sergeant.
As a communications major, Saenz mastered the art of storytelling. His success stems from hard work, dedication, and his high level of attention to detail. His passion for creativity was fueled by the tremendous support of his family and friends.
Saenz is the owner of Miguel Saenz Photography, where he uses photography and videography to enhance the stories he tells. His goal is to continue to grow his business and share the many stories that still need to be told.
Saenz delivered the following speech to this year’s class of graduating students.
Good afternoon President Elisa Stephens, respected guests and members of the Academy community, staff, family, friends, and fellow graduates. I am absolutely honored and humbled to be standing here representing the graduating class of 2022. On behalf of my fellow graduates, I would like to thank each of you for celebrating with us.
Graduation is a time of reflecting on the past and looking forward to the future. It is a time that we, as graduates, get together for one last hurrah before moving on. As I look at you, my fellow graduates, I know that each of you has your own story.
Let me share a bit of my story.
I am the first in my family to complete high school. Never in my life did I ever think that this freaking Mexican would be here receiving a master’s degree.
I am a husband, a proud father of three wonderful children, and I am a grandfather too. My oldest daughter Elizabeth, is an online student, studying photography here at Academy of Art University. Angelica, my middle child, is the mother of my three grandkids and my son Miguel is 11, and he is excited to be entering middle school.
I was born in Cuidad, Juarez Chihuahua, Mexico, where I lived with my mother, and her parents until I was five. Mother and I left everything that was familiar to us to join my dad at Ft. Riley, Kansas.
What a new world I entered.
I was at my new school for just one week, when my teacher called my dad wanting to know if there was something wrong with me, since I just sat there and did not say a word. I guess no one mentioned that I didn’t speak a lick of English. As an Army
brat, I quickly adjusted to new environments every three years. My last move was to Ft. Knox, Kentucky. As I completed high school, I knew that I wanted to do something challenging and exciting. So, I decided to enlist in the United States Marine Corps. Sorry dad but the Army wasn’t for me.
I was a Gunnery Sergeant in the Marine Corps and was deployed five times to Iraq. [M]y last deployment was to Afghanistan to the Helmand Province, the site of some of the most brutal battles against the Taliban. We had our good days and bad days, but the worst days were the days when I lost the lives of my brothers: Sgt. Vincent J. Bell, Sgt. Jason T. Smith, Cpl. William
H. Crouse, [and] Cpl. Lucas T. Wyatt. One day I’ll join you, and we can patrol the streets of heaven together.
After 20 years of faithful service in the Marine Corps, I retired at the ripe old age of 38. It was time for me to start a new life away from active service. But I had no idea of the challenges that I was about to face.
In combat, I suffered multiple concussions, a back injury, and profound hearing loss. But combat is something that I survived, and as I look back I would not change a single thing. I suffer from PTSD–Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Many things trigger me, and my mind goes back to being out on patrol, with my rifle, my brothers, back in combat. I find myself always on high alert and always looking for the nearest exit in any room. This leads to my anxiety attacks that always happen in the most inconvenient places. This is one of the main reasons that I found myself avoiding large crowds.
I was prescribed many medications, but they turned me into someone who I hated. I was always angry and everything and everyone annoyed me. This caused my family to distance themselves from me–who could blame them? I went to months and months of counseling and when that didn’t help, I tried self-medicating with alcohol and found myself drowning in it every single day.
I searched for something that could help me refocus my anxiety. In my darkest time, I picked up a camera for the first time, and I found something, I discovered that this camera reminded me of holding my rifle. Then, I found the photography department at the Academy and my world changed. In the Marines, I was taught the fundamentals of marksmanship on how to shoot accurately, and now I could put those same skills to use in a different way. In my mind, I thought about slowly squeezing the trigger, picturing the target down range. Now, with a camera, it was the same, except it’s called the shutter release.
This led me to a new mission. First, I earned my Associate of Arts, and then my Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography. Next, I enrolled in the master’s program in the School of Communications & Media Technologies, which opened up so much more. I began to feel more comfortable around large groups of people. I took that one step out of my comfort zone and gradually began to understand that I could deal with my PTSD and still be able to live the life I wanted. I mean, just look at me now I’m standing up on this stage in front of all of you. The lessons that I learned at the Academy have been more healing than any medicine or counseling that I have ever had. For that, I am forever grateful.
The motto of the Marines Corps is “Semper Fidelis, it’s Latin for “Always Faithful.” I quickly realized that I needed a personal motto of my own, so I modified “Semper Fidelis.” Growing up, one of my favorite TV shows was Gumby. For those of you who haven’t met him, I brought him with me. Look, he is so flexible, and because he is so flexible, I came up with “Semper Gumby”– “Always Flexible.” This is a motto that I use in my career, my life, and with my family.
In closing, I want to leave you with a quote from Steve Jobs, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in the future.”
Preparing my speech has forced me to connect my dots. I’m an immigrant, remember that freaking little Mexican sitting in a classroom not saying a word because he didn’t speak a lick of English. I’m a Marine and I learned leadership and discipline in the Corps. My PTSD led me to pick up a camera, which led me to get an A.A., B.F.A., and now my M.A. Those dots gave me the skills and confidence to open up Miguel Saenz Photography. As we graduate today, I hope each of you looks back and connects your dots.
To my wife Elizabeth, thank you for all your support and for being my model, my movie star, and “ La Chancla Master.” Without you, I would not be standing here today.
Lastly, I want to thank all the instructors. Without your expertise, wisdom, and patience we would not be here today. Your work and time are greatly appreciated. Steve Kotton: you opened up my eyes to a whole new video world and I will always continue to tell the story with a beginning, middle, and end. Peter Shaplen: I think my writing is improving, and for that I thank you (I will keep on Gubbin), and I just hope that your pen did not run out of red ink grading my assignments.
Congratulations, Class of 2022, and remember always stay Semper Gumby.