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Student Commencement Address 2018

Latifa Mae Al-Mohdar ’18

Latifa Mae Al-Mohdar

Latifa Mae Al-Mohdar ’18, Senior Class President and Class of 2018 Alumnae Class President, delivered the student speech at Smith College’s 140h commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 20.

Good morning Class of 2018! Welcome, Ms. Rita Dove, President McCartney, administration, members of the Board of Trustees, families, friends, professors and staff, to the Class of 2018’s and Smith’s 140th commencement. Seniors, this is your day. 

I want to talk to you today about time, because I seriously don’t know where it has gone. We just had an awesome week without assignments, deadlines, or waking up early for class. But it feels like just yesterday that we were looking forward to our summers between each school year, or our first day of classes, and yet here we are, at the final stage of our undergraduate education. I can’t speak for each one of you, but for me, this passage of time has been such a blur, going by almost as fast as Reading Period does. But blurs don’t make for good commencement speeches, so I’d like to remember some of what we have experienced together. 

It all started at the president’s welcome address at the beginning of our first year. During the address, I felt so emotional about this new stage of my life that I started to cry, and I put my head on my dad’s shoulder so that no one would see me. But behind us, a Smith photographer with a good eye for capturing complicated emotions in a single image, took a picture and posted it on Facebook with the caption: “As Orientation for parents draws to a close, here's a shout-out to all the families who've been there for our new students over the years. Thanks for all you've done!” The caption seemed so celebratory, and yet to me, it didn’t completely match my mixed feelings, my “Oh my God, what am I doing here?” thoughts. Most of you were also in this crowd, sitting with your families or new friends, perhaps feeling like you belonged, perhaps questioning whether you made the right decision, or perhaps just worried that you would be asked about Whistling Vivaldi, the book we were supposed to have read over the summer.

Onto our second year, the year when Smith rose in U.S. News and World Report’s annual national liberal arts college rankings, moving from 18th to 14th in the country because of our improvements in faculty resources, selectivity and reputation. It was so great to hear that more high school students were considering Smith. This was also the year of the infamous Sophomore Slump. We were no longer new to Smith as first years, nor were we old to Smith, about to graduate, so some of us felt caught in this “in between.” But there was also a new confidence on campus. We were navigating and pursuing the opportunities that we wanted. Our interests became our majors, our classmates became our best friends and our teachers became our mentors. We joined clubs and sports that taught us how to throw a perfect three pointer, program a robot, sing our hearts out or invest in stocks. 

Then came junior year, the year when, on my birthday, October 14, architect Maya Lin shared her plans for the redesign of Neilson Library. Neilson was the building where we had studied all day, or night, or both, enjoyed afternoons curled up in the reading room with a book, and laughed at the instructions above the printer, hand written by a Smithie, to perform an exorcism on the printer if it started spewing out blank pages. I’m excited for the new Neilson, though. We’ll all see it on our fifth reunion and feel proud that we were the ones to bear its absence during construction! Some of us got to spend time abroad during Junior Year. I know exactly where most of you went, thanks to Instagram. I personally got to spend the year in London, and will be moving back there after graduation. And no matter where we spent junior year, we all experienced a major historical moment when, in November, President Trump won the election. Whatever your political affiliation, I am sure you remember that day.

Now senior year. We’ve all been asked the question, “How does it feel to be a senior?” Well, how does it feel? Before we got to campus this year, we anticipated senioritis, and wondered if our eagerness to graduate would distract us from being motivated or performing at our best. And yet, I saw so many of you spending hours in the library or in the Campus Center doing work, saying that you were busy with an optional research project, spending your spring break in Houston volunteering after Hurricane Harvey, putting together the Weaving Voices monologue series, or organizing weekly lecture series with professors from four completely different fields to present to seniors who didn’t have a chance to take their classes. Smithies are hard workers. We do our best, get things done, and change the world around us while we’re doing it. 

It’s no surprise then, that we have some incredible graduates in the audience today. We have seniors that will be moving on to top institutions in their professional fields like Columbia, Yale, MIT, the London School of Economics and John Hopkins, among many others. We have students going to work in tech companies like Google, nonprofits like City Year, schools like the Success Academy Charter School in New York City, and financial institutions like Morgan Stanley, and we have students who are still deciding their next move. And a whopping 14 members of our graduating class received a Fulbright Fellowship this year and will be spending the next year in Colombia, Taiwan and elsewhere. 

Remembering these four years as we experienced them together helps us remember that life has more meaning when we remember to look back, reminding ourselves of all that we've experienced, of the lives we've touched, and the lessons we've learned. What has our time at this small liberal arts college meant for us? Our worlds are bigger. We are more critical thinkers. We are more informed members of society.  And after today, we are officially Smith alumni. So make your adventures timeless. Your love timeless. Your courage timeless. And know that whatever it is that we choose to do next, as the moments and years pass, we will forever be impacted by our time at Smith.

I want to thank my incredible family, my friends and my Friedman House, Hashimi Unit D roommates, for being there during the highs and the lows. And I’d like to send a special shout out to my family and dad in Yemen, بارك الله فيكم God bless you.

And lastly, congratulations to the Class of 2018!