Utah Valley University President Astrid Tuminez would not be where she is today without strong women in her life.
As part of her RootsTech Connect keynote message, Tuminez described growing up in a Filipino slum. Her grandmother, whose father was murdered when she was 15 years old, worked in the rice fields under the hot sun, had one year of schooling and was ostracized for her dark skin. Her mother also faced many difficult challenges in raising their family.
Although they had little, Tuminez was inspired by these women for their “strong hearts, skillful hands and stubborn brains,” which helped them to take advantage of opportunities, endure suffering and care for themselves and others. Tuminez calls them her “women warriors.”
“My grandmother, my mother and other women warriors in my life are all women who dared to dream in difficult circumstances,” Tuminez said. “They found courage to leap into adventures and didn’t let their circumstances overly sway what they could and would become. They were women of grit, who knew how to fall down and get back up again. Grit resided in their hearts and souls, enough to blaze a trail for themselves and for me.”
Tuminez is one of 13 keynote speakers featured at this year’s RootsTech Connect, which has had more than 500,000 participants from 235 countries and territories.
Along with family history themes, keynote speakers spoke on topics such as setting goals and chasing dreams, self-worth, kindness and being a good person, among others. Here are thoughts from various keynotes.
Sunetra Sarker: ‘Embracing Multiculturalism’
In her keynote, British actress Sunetra Sarker described the bicultural challenges of being raised in England by her Indian parents.
“I was living a double life,” she said.
Because of her family roots, it was not easy to get into acting. But with persistence, she eventually got her big break.
“When I was growing up in the ’70s, and ’80s, there was nobody, and I mean nobody, that looked like me on screen. We had black actresses. We had mixed-race actors. We had a couple of Chinese faces. But I honestly don’t think I had seen an Asian woman as an actor on screen. So it was never an option. I didn’t even think it was possible,” she said.
“So when I did end up becoming an actress on a television show, I was the first Asian actress I had ever seen on screen. Now I have so many young girls who come up to me and say, ‘You were the first one we were all waiting to see somebody that looked like us.’”
Her advice to people about facing fears?
“Don’t turn your back on the things that scare you,” she said. “Run right toward it.”
Nick Vujicic: ‘You Matter’
When motivational speaker and bestselling author Nick Vujicic was born without arms or legs, his parents considered giving him up for adoption. His grandparents said, “If you are thinking of adoption at all, give him to us.” This taught him about the power of love in family.
“The roots of family and blood and love are there,” Vujicic said. “The desire to want to connect and give those broken pieces a chance is this thing called love. It starts with love, it is love, and it ends with love. ... We are all human beings. We all have value.”
As part of his message, Vujicic said we need to approach each other with grace, mercy and understanding like never before.
“There’s three things — that three-legged stool — for you how to know how to be self-loved, in a humble way. No. 1, the truth of your value. No. 2, the truth of your purpose. And thirdly, the truth of your full potential,” he said. “No one ever reached their full potential until they did everything they could with what they were given.”
Diego Lugano: ‘Inspiring Younger Generations’
Diego Lugano, a former professional soccer player from Uruguay, played in two World Cups and traveled all over the world. Delivering his keynote in Spanish, Lugano talked about his impressive career, successful qualities of leadership, being part of a team family, his Italian roots and why being a good person matters.
“Being a good person is the main thing in any area of life,” he said. “The more proper you are and the more human, the better of a friend and the greater empathy you have, the more the universe opens up in your favor.”
Francesco Lotoro: ‘History Lives on Through Music’
Francesco Lotoro, an Italian pianist, composer and conductor, has spent years recovering and preserving works of music composed by individuals in World War II concentration camps and other prisons.
Speaking in Italian during his keynote, he described the beautiful orchestras, complex operas and “exceptional music” composed by people living in extremely poor conditions, working 18-hour days and surrounded by death.
“That is the miracle of this music,” Lotoro said. “In the end it shows us what mankind is made of. Even through sufferings, our intelligence is not choked off but can be multiplied.”
Lorena Ochoa: ‘Following Dreams and Giving Back’
Before she became one of the most celebrated female golfers in Latin America, Lorena Ochoa recalled losing a golf tournament around age 13.
That particular loss really bothered her. Ochoa made a goal to become the best golfer in the world. She focused on eliminating distractions and shared her dream with her family and loved ones, Ochoa said in her RootsTech keynote remarks.
“From that moment on, my life changed,” she said in her native Spanish. “When you dare to talk about your dreams, when you dare to share them with your loved ones and with your friends, you get closer to that dream.”
At the pinnacle of her career, Ochoa surprised many by deciding to retire and pursue other dreams, one of which was to have a family. She encouraged people to consider timing when setting goals.
“People believe it was complicated ... it was actually pretty simple. It was natural because the moment had come,” she said of stepping away from golf. “I’m grateful to God that I had the courage to make the decision at the right time, to be able to finish well on the golf course and be happy with my goals and accomplishments.”
She continued: “It is much harder being a mother than playing golf and winning tournaments, but it’s also a lot more gratifying. It’s beautiful. They shouldn’t really be compared because each one, in its time, has been spectacular and the most beautiful thing that has happened to me.”
Erick Avari: ‘Blazing a Trail in Acting’
One of the central messages in actor Erick Avari’s keynote was the importance of kindness.
Born and raised in India, Avari told about his father showing kindness to a boy with leprosy who lost his all his limbs and got around town on a little skateboard. Avari’s father often gave the boy money and reached down with his hand to touch him. “Without that, the money is meaningless,” his father told him.
“That is something I will always remember him for, being kind to a fault, and I don’t think he ever regretted it,” Avari said.
The actor attributed much of his career success to the kindness of strangers.
“Along the way, I met so many people who didn’t have to, but went out of their way to show me kindness and help me along or to accept me. I have a lot of people to thank and appreciate,” he said. “That changed my life significantly. I would not be here if you had not done it. It can change someone’s life and to the giver, it could mean practically nothing, a pat on the shoulder.”
Sharon Leslie Morgan: ‘Finding Healing Through Family History’
Sharon Leslie Morgan, author and genealogist, opened her keynote with a short video depicting her life in the same Mississippi town where her enslaved ancestor once lived, complete with cotton field landscapes. While researching records in the local courthouse, she pointed out that slaves are usually listed after furniture, household implements and domestic animals.
“My ancestors came from here and fled,” she said. “For me to come back and reclaim memories, experiences, relationships, I think that that is going to help with healing from the historical harm of slavery.”
Looking back on the truth of history will help people to move forward in their lives, Morgan said.
“They were the dreamers and we are the dream,” she said. “So we can go forward and we have to honor and appreciate that. We have to look back and we have to say their names.”
Will Hopoate: ‘Overcoming Obstacles on and off the Rugby Pitch’
Born and raised in Australia by Tongan parents, Will Hopoate has enjoyed a career in the Professional Rugby League. Along the way, two of his teachers have been “gratitude” and “humility.”
“A couple of principles that have helped me throughout my life is gratitude and humility,” Hopoate said in his keynote address. “I think being grateful for things you have and counting your blessings more so than the problems and challenges that you have really can lighten your day. It can lighten your mood and be a powerful force in your life.”
Hopoate continued: “Just being down to earth, not thinking you’re better than anyone and realizing the talents and gifts that you have, that they’re blessings. You don’t want to take them for granted. … I’m still struggling to perfect them.”
All of the RootsTech Connect keynote addresses are available to watch online at RootsTech.org.