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Student Commencement Address 2017

Badriyyah Alsabah ’17

Badriyyah Alsabah, president of the Class of 2017, delivered the student speech at Smith College’s 139th commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 21.

Good morning, Class of 2017 and happy Commencement!

I extend a warm welcome to friends, families, professors, administrators, alumnae, staff, and everyone who has chosen to join us on this momentous day! I was nervous enough, knowing when I was elected class president, that I had to make this speech in front of so many people that I have the highest respect for. But now Oprah? Really? Well, that’s Smith for you!

Class of 2017, we have just spent a wonderful week together celebrating, and if there is anything that I have realized in this week, it is that the first thing that we will miss about Smith is each other. Class of 2017, I love you.

As we have taught each other and grown with each other and supported each other, we must remember that we have also taught, grown with, and supported Smith, just as it has done for us. No institution is perfect. But standing here four years later, I know that I am exactly where I am meant to be. We’re all moving on to different fields and opportunities, but what we share and carry with us is the “Smith Bond.” The one that lets you bump into a stranger, find out that they are a Smithie, too, and proceed to gush over your Smith experiences and the wild shenanigans you had.

With all the unforgettable traditions we have experienced, from Convocation to Mountain Day, and from Primal Scream to our beloved house teas, with each passing day, we have woven ourselves deeper into the fabric of Smith College. Ivy Day, a tradition we experienced just yesterday, is a testament to the lasting impact that attending Smith has on one’s life, with alumnae from across decades showing up for each other and for Smith. May we continue to call Smith home, continue to support Smith, and continue to build on our remarkable college experience.

Change has been a constant theme in our four years here. You all epitomize what it means to be an agent of change, both accepting and creating it.

  • Student groups like Q&A have organized for inclusion and seen the amending of the admission policy to accept trans women.
  • Students in collaboration with Smith’s Center for the Environment, Ecological Design and Sustainability have organized for food justice, encouraging Smith to sign on to the Real Food Challenge.
  • The group Organizing for Undocumented Student’s Rights has championed for accessibility to education and worked with the administration to include undocumented students as domestic students in the admission process.
  • Students of color have organized for diversity and inclusion across all platforms.

In our class

  • two of our members, Yashna Sureka and Christine Yee, have received a Gates Foundation grant out of over 1,100 applicants. They have developed a fingerprint authorization system for monetary transactions in India.
  • We have 13 Fulbright Scholars, and students going on to graduate schools like Columbia, Yale and the Imperial College of London.
  • Some of us are off to human rights internships and others to jobs. I’m looking forward to working for the United Nation’s regional Cairo office in support of women and children who have suffered trauma.
  • And for some of us, we’re still exploring, and that’s okay!

From my four years here, and sharing this time with all of you, I have learned not to think in binaries, to listen before I speak, and to push farther than I think is possible. We have had our highs and lows at Smith, fallen in and out and back in love with Smith, given our blood, sweat and tears, but we have definitely achieved long-lasting and meaningful change at Smith.

Although we have had vastly different experiences, we have all shared a part of our life stories here on campus, and today we take a part of Smith with us, as we embark on our individual Odysseys. I say odysseys because I predict that our lives will be more than just journeys, rather intellectual and spiritual voyages marked by many, many adventures. For instance, someone who has inspired me here at Smith, Professor Suleiman Mourad, received his first undergraduate degree in mathematics, and yet is now a leading scholar in medieval Islamic history and religious thought. So, even though our paths are undetermined, I urge you not to move forward with fear, but instead a belief in your own abilities. As feminist writer Audre Lord wonderfully put it, “When I dare to be powerful—to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

Before I close, I would like to give one last shoutout to my family who is here from Kuwait. Thank you for always supporting me and never allowing stereotypes to dictate my life. I love you. Class of 2017, may our journeys be alive with passion, empowered with vulnerability and brimming with opportunities. May we continue to affirm each other’s humanities and lend our ears to friends in need. And as Bob Dylan once said, “May we stay forever young.”

Congratulations and thank you.