Few student leaders at Washington University have done more to promote issues of diversity awareness on campus than Fernando Cutz, president of the senior class and this year’s student Commencement speaker.
Following an incident of anti-Semitism against his roommate freshman year, Cutz founded the student group Student Diversity Initiative. Now called Connect 4, the group brings diverse people from around campus together through dialogue, understanding and change.
In 2009, Cutz co-founded WU/FUSED, Washington University For Undergraduate Socio-Economic Diversity. Working with a committee of students and with the administration, the group has tried to increase the number of lower socio-economic students attending the university and to improve the lifestyle of lower socio-economic students who already are at WUSTL.
That organization has gone national, with student government bodies at numerous schools agreeing to participate on their own campuses.
Diversity issues followed Cutz into his role as senior class president. During a class trip last October, six black seniors were racially profiled for wearing baggy pants and denied entry to Chicago-based Mother’s Bar.
Cutz took action, mobilizing his classmates, helping to manage international media coverage and working on legal negotiations to settle the matter.
For Cutz’s efforts and those of his classmates, the Anti-Defamation League of St. Louis honored the entire class with its most prestigious award, the Torch of Liberty, for promoting and fighting for the values of liberty, freedom, equality and democracy. Cutz himself picked up a similar honor from the Austin, Texas, chapter of the Anti-Defamation League.
“I would put Fernando in the top 1 percent of student leaders with whom I have had the pleasure to work during my 30-plus years in Student Affairs,” says Jill Carnaghi, PhD, associate vice chancellor for students and director of campus life.
“Fernando’s most outstanding talents and characteristics are many: always puts others first, wise and mature beyond his years, well spoken, intellectually curious, incredibly respectful of others, responsible for himself and his peers, truly listens to diverse points of view, follows through on any commitment, and always honest and forthcoming — no matter the situation.”
Born in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, Cutz, who is fluent in Portuguese and Spanish, will graduate with degrees in international and area studies and political science, both in Arts & Sciences.
Next fall, he will enter a master’s degree program at the Clinton School for Public Service in Little Rock, Ark. He is the inaugural winner of that school’s full-ride Ford Motor Company Community Fellowship.
Ultimately, Cutz hopes to become a diplomat in the U.S. Foreign Service.
He has a head start, having interned at the U.S. Embassy in Portugal two years ago.
Cutz is a John B. Ervin Scholar and an Enterprise Rent-A-Car Scholar. This year, he won an Ethan A.H. Shepley Award from Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton, given to the 10 most outstanding graduating seniors.
He also won the Arnold J. Lien Prize for most outstanding political science senior and the Victor H. Farwell Award for top student leader in the graduating class.
He has thoroughly enjoyed his time at the university, but a battle with stomach cancer during his sophomore year made him realize what a truly special place it is for him.
“It was incredibly tough, going through surgeries and chemotherapy,” says Cutz, who was forced to take a semester off to seek treatment. “But the community here really pulled together for me. I felt so much love and support from everyone here.
“I feel like I owe Washington University a lot because of everything people did for me during that time,” Cutz says.
He is fully recovered from cancer.
Cutz’s Commencement speech will be about following passions.
“It’s about finding out who you are and what you can contribute to the world,” he says. “It’s about staying true to yourself.”