December Commencement Student Speaker Grapples With Identity, Commits Himself to Equality of Opportunity
By Liam Farrell
Student commencement speaker Luke Teresi '20 wants to focus his career on issues such as economic development, affordable housing and access to education, examining how and why racism can be embedded in the building blocks of opportunity, and give back to his community by helping to enact legislation that protects equal rights.
Growing up in suburban New Jersey, Luke Teresi ’20 thought that someday he would be a doctor. College was expected for him and his predominantly white, upper-middle-class high school peers, and the challenges of politics and poverty seemed distant.
But as he grew and matured at the University of Maryland—and started grappling with his identity as the son of a teenage South Korean woman adopted in his infancy from an orphanage by Italian Americans—Teresi began to see a whole different world of challenges for people born into circumstances outside their control.
“I’m fortunate enough to have a family that adopted me,” he said. “Because of that, I had opportunities that people with less money don’t have.”
Teresi is the student speaker at Sunday’s Winter 2020 Commencement ceremony, graduating with a degree in psychology and a 3.84 GPA. He’s applying to law school and hopes to one day enter elected politics. He wants to focus on issues such as economic development, affordable housing and access to education, examining how and why racism can be embedded in the building blocks of opportunity, and give back to his community by helping to enact legislation that protects equal rights.
“I honestly never thought I would be on a track for politics. How is one opinion going to matter?” he said. “But I can be a person who legitimately makes a difference.”
A founder of the UMD chapter of the Sigma Tau Gamma social fraternity, Teresi was also a member of the Multi-Ethnic Student Education Academic Excellence Society and the Psi Chi Psychology National Honor Society.
Edward Lemay, psychology professor and director of UMD’s Interpersonal Relationships Lab, fondly recalled how Teresi interviewed for an internship in 2019 while wearing a full suit—a rarity among undergraduate candidates.
“We correctly interpreted it as a signal regarding his maturity,” he said. “He really elevated the climate in our lab.”
Lemay, who also taught Teresi in a separate class, said he has demonstrated strong social intelligence when assisting on experiments and developed a unique ability to synthesize information from reviewing research.
“You don’t often see it at the undergraduate level,” Lemay said.
Teresi’s proudest personal accomplishment was co-founding the Cross-Cultural Adoptees Organization for students who have been adopted across races and cultures. The group was a critical support as he delved into his own identities and the assumptions people can make about someone based on appearances—and what society considers a “true” American.
“That was really the first time my eyes were opened to an identity crisis I didn’t even know I was going through,” he said. “if people can unite behind the fact that everyone is different, that could be a great step in the right direction.”
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