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Student Commencement Address 2019

Aminata Khan ’19

Aminata Khan speaking at Commencement

Aminata Khan ’19, Senior Class President and Class of 2019 Alumnae Class President, delivered the student speech at Smith College’s 141st commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 19.


Good morning! 

I would like to extend a warm welcome to all of you, students, families, friends and distinguished guests. I am delighted to see you here and grateful that you have gathered from far and near to celebrate our achievements! 

I am Aminata Khan, a graduating chemistry major and Spanish minor. If you know me well, you’re probably wondering why I’m not crying yet. Chances are, I’ve cried before I got up here and I’ll probably cry the second that I get off. But in the great words of Winnie the Pooh, “how lucky I must be to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” As I reflect on the last four years, I feel truly blessed to be at Smith. I engaged in the learning of various topics that span multiple disciplines, worked alongside professors who have challenged me day in and day out, and best of all, had the opportunity to have gained countless memories laughing, crying, celebrating, stressing—and everything in between—with you, class of 2019!

Since my first introductory class in chemistry, I’ve come to appreciate just how much my ideas and assumptions have been challenged both in and out the classroom. I’ve learned not to think in binaries, to engage in thoughtful and respectful dialogue with those who have perspectives different from my own, and to push deeper than I ever thought was possible. 

As Smithies, we devote ourselves and work tirelessly to accomplish things that make a positive impact in our community, and these triumphs will certainly continue beyond the Grécourt Gates. 

Members of our class have been accepted into incredible graduate schools that include Columbia, Yale, Oxford, Princeton and Johns Hopkins. We are entrepreneurs launching and expanding our innovative business ideas. Fourteen of us are Fulbright scholars who will be conducting research and teaching English in countries like Barbados, South Korea, Spain, Colombia and many more! Some of us will be analysts at Facebook, consultants at McKinsey, and researchers at institutions like Harvard, The Broad and Pfizer. We will be makers, creatives, writers and social justice leaders of tomorrow. Some of us are still exploring our options, but for all of us, an exciting future awaits! 

As we reflect on our accomplishments, traditions we have continued, and transformations we have experienced, we must also recognize the growth we have brought to Smith. Change has been constant during our time here. Maya Angelou once said, “If you don’t like something, change it.” And to my fellow graduating class of 2019, you did. We all exemplify what it means to be agents of change—in both creating it and accepting it. 

  • We have seen our peers organize platforms to address the needs of marginalized students through programs like weaving voices, and first-gen visibility week
  • Smith Students for Social Justice and Institutional Change led protests to demand inclusion and support from administration, and have seen the college respond to one of the demands by addressing the costs of learning disability testing for low-income students.
  • A student-led group, Smith Cycle has been tackling the concern of waste by creating a program to donate and upcycle a wide variety of items to reduce waste on campus.
  • Student leaders in the residential experience working group advocated for and secured affinity housing to cultivate and foster a sense of belonging for students of color.

In striving to better Smith as an institution, I realized that there is absolutely no place I’d rather be. As we part ways after today and continue our journeys as movers and shakers in this challenging world, we will always be connected by these collective experiences on this very campus. The experiences that allow you to run into an old classmate and reminisce about the time you may or may not have snuck into Ford Hall to make a midnight snack of ice cream using liquid nitrogen. 

Whenever people are asked about what their favorite part of Smith is, they always say the people and the community and for me—this holds true. From studying for exams in the hallways of Wilder in my first year, to relentlessly devouring apple cider donuts on Mountain Day with my sisters in BSA—I made friendships that I will continue to cherish for the rest of my life. I can’t begin to express how happy I am to be standing here wearing my BSA stole with such pride. These are just few of the many experiences that make the Smith bond invaluable. As Smithies, we share the commitment to affirm each other through compassion and the ability to transform this world. 

Our class has learned to accept change as well as provoke it. Just as we did when we started Smith, we must once again leap into a new, unfamiliar part of our life. It will be scary facing these transitions, but we will learn to embrace them because in the promising words of Harriet Tubman: “Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” 

As soon-to-be graduates, recognize that you embody everything you need to embark on these journeys. Welcome the changes in the world and within ourselves, for our futures are open, expansive and unwritten. With that, I urge you to go into this world fierce and unafraid. Continue to be bold and brilliant. Challenge yourself to expand your comfort zone regularly. Be prepared to experiment. Take risks. Keep learning. Make your life your own. Be happy. Always be proud of yourself. And I know this may be difficult for some of us, but please get a sufficient amount of sleep. 

Before I close, I want to take a moment to give a huge shout-out to my family that is here all the way from Gambia! I’m immensely grateful that my is mom here to see all that I have accomplished as a result of my hard work and her prayers.

To the class of 2019, may our journeys be brimming with passion, empowered by strength in vulnerability, and filled with all that is love and light. May we continue to ask questions, seek answers, thrive, and be the forces of change that this world needs.

Congratulations class of 2019!