Sarah Hussain ’13
Sarah Hussain, president of the Class of 2013, delivered the student speech at Smith College’s 135th commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 19.
Class of 2013, good morning! Let me begin by extending a special welcome to our loved ones, faculty, and staff who are here to share this momentous occasion with all of us. Without your guidance, occasional nagging, and constant support, we might not have made it to this day. But, we did – we made it! Four years later and guess what my fellow graduates…we not only survived, we thrived. And, I’m here to tell the tale of our time at Smith.
But first, a quick story: During an internship last summer, my program director introduced me to a woman who had done the same internship. The minute we discovered we both went to Smith, we screamed. What house do you live in? When was Mountain Day? How are the squirrels on campus? All these just started pouring out of us, and my program director looked at us – literally – with his mouth wide open. We turned to him mid-conversation and said in unison, “You won’t understand, you didn’t go to Smith!” This bond created by the Smith experience resonates with me. It is almost indescribable to the outside world. So today, being a true Smithie, I’m taking up the challenge of describing this indescribable experience.
For most of us, our journey began on August 28, 2009, when we arrived on campus as first years. Parents and siblings dropped us off and left more quickly than we could imagine, leaving us in the Quad, on Green Street, or on Elm Street, at a place we would call home for the four years. We met each other in the days that followed and came to appreciate how different we all were. Authors, musicians, artists, historians, future politicians, scientists…yet, we were all becoming Smithies. First year was full of navigating Smith and Northampton and made us wonder (on more than one occasion!) where have we landed! We found ourselves not being the smartest person in the room anymore, but instead having to re-evaluate who we were, what our goals were, and where we wanted to go. We were accepting change.
Before we knew it, first year was over. As rising sophomores, many of us were returning as either HONS, SAA’s, or simply eager to be reunited with Smith and our friends. Sophomore year proved to be as unique as our first year. From being fascinated by the new first years, who were once us, to evolving friendships to declaring our major, we were finding our niches. Our classes challenged us more, professors asked harder questions, and we wove ourselves deeper into the fabric of Smith. We were indulging our curiosity.
Junior year arrived even more quickly. Half of us were JYA and the other half JY-Stay. Our class was spread all over the world. We were meeting new people, trying new things, and continuing to find ourselves. Yet, throughout we remained connected and came together when necessary to show the world what Smith meant to us and future generations. We were gaining a sense of self.
Now, senior year is over. We have done all the Smith traditions one last time: Convocation, Mountain Day, Julia Child Day – how can we forget that pumpkin ravioli – House Teas, Rally Day, Midnight Madness, Winter and Spring weekends. Our life at Smith has drawn to a close, and we sit here today awaiting whatever’s next. The question on the table: What are we taking with us? Flexibility to change, taking on challenges, intellectual curiosity, a sense of self…we are leaving having fully embraced a Smith experience that will stay with us forever.
The Smith experience is a powerful connection that we have with each other, with past, present, and future Smithies, and with this college. Together and alone we have experienced highs and lows and have fallen in and out and back in love Smith. We did not have identical experiences, but out differences came together here. We shared a part of ourselves with this college, and today we take with us a piece of Smith. We witnessed this reality yesterday, as we watched alumnae return to campus because their piece of Smith never left them.
Returning to my self-imposed challenge, I tried to describe the indescribable, but I suspect I have not been completely successful. So, I am accepting defeat, which is a great concession for any Smithie. But, I’ve come to realize that the Smith experience is never stagnant, it’s fluid. As Smithies we will continue to define and refine this experience. This is the beauty of Smith.
As we leave today, let’s remember the words of the writer Aldous Huxley who said, “Experience is not what happens to a person, it is what a person does with what happens to them.” My fellow graduates take your Smith experience and let it guide you to your goals and aspirations! I wish you the best and congratulations, thank you.