BY WALTER VILLA, Special To STU
For The Honorable Tarlika Nunez-Navarro, this has been a sentimental journey, lined with oak trees and nourished with fresh tortillas and guacamole.
Dean Nunez-Navarro, a former judge, and the newly named dean of St. Thomas University’s Benjamin L. Crump College of Law, spoke recently at an on-campus celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.
During her speech at STU’s Gus Machado College of Business Complex, Dean Nunez-Navarro had her audience in rapt attention as she explained the connection she had with her late father.
“He left his native Colombia because of the lawlessness and the anarchy that was going on when he was a young man,” Dean Nunez-Navarro said. “He came to this country with nothing, and he provided a life for me.
“His dying wish was that I go to law school at St. Thomas University.”
Dean Nunez-Navarro fulfilled that wish, and her father could not have been prouder.
Ironically, the Machado Complex where Dean Nunez-Navarro spoke used to be an open field full of gorgeous oak trees.
It was under those oaks that Dean Nunez-Navarro’s father, Dr. David Nunez, would sometimes visit his daughter to share lunch, laughs and conversation.
“My father would bring a picnic for us, and he would set up a blanket,” she said. “I remember how kind and sweet and patient he was.
“I would say, ‘Dad, I only have one hour between classes. I really don’t have time for this.’
“But he would bring me fresh tortillas and guacamole. We would sit under the oak trees and have lunch. So, it is a special honor to speak to you during Hispanic Heritage Month at this location.”
Dean Navarro told her audience that – earlier in the day – she greeted nearly 300 first-year law students. She also said that 74 percent of that incoming class includes law students of Hispanic ancestry.
“I stand before you with immense pride,” Dean Navarro said. “We honor the rich cultural tapestry of our Hispanic Heritage, but we also reflect on the journey of our ancestors who brought us here, and we rejoice in the progress we have made.”
Dean Navarro, who had been a judge for Florida’s Ninth Circuit Court before coming to STU, said she has witnessed the transformative power of education, which explains why she made the move to academia.
“Education is not merely a tool,” she said. “Education is the cornerstone of upward mobility and progress. Education is the compass that guides us toward prosperity and leadership.
“Education is the fuel that propels our community forward. It is the fuel that breaks down barriers and opens doors to opportunities like mine that were previously unimaginable.”
Despite the glowing words regarding the power of education, Dean Navarro cautioned that upward mobility is a collective effort.
“Together, we must build a path that leads to a vision for our next generation,” she said. “This is about fostering a culture of life-long learning where students — no matter their backgrounds — have access to a quality education.
“It’s about creating opportunities for mentorship. It’s about promoting diversity and inclusion at every level.
“Hispanic Heritage Month isn’t just a celebration of the past. It’s about a commitment to a brighter future where we equip the next generation with the knowledge, skills, and determination to break new ground and become leaders.”
Before completing her speech and taking her seat, Dean Nunez-Navarro issued a challenge to everyone within earshot of her voice.
Said Dean Navarro: “I want to make sure you are lifting up those who are coming up behind you.”
It was a great way to finish her speech — fitting as splendidly as a fall hour spent under oak trees, having lunch, laughs and conversation with her beloved father.