Remarks by Nanjiba Nawaz ’17

Remarks as prepared.

Congratulations to the graduating class of 2017. We have made it!

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak today. Now that I have the podium and everyone’s ears, I would like to take this opportunity to really thank you. For the little things. Thank you to the orientation leaders, tour guides and students in general for giving us tours around campus and helping us find classes when we were clueless first-years. The CAs for listening (or pretending to listen) to our long rants about roommate problems. Our TAs and tutors, especially in computer science and organic chemistry, for helping us not go bald by working through all sorts of life-ruining homework sets with us. The library circulation desk workers who always bring us the books, despite us never listening to them and writing down the call numbers. Those friends who nudge us to raise our hands and share our insightful opinions in our English and social science classes — and those friends who actually do wake us up from our 30-minute naps and force us to study all night with them. The CDC mentors who proofread and mend our cover letters. Those professors who are always there to listen and explain things a million times during their office hours. The housekeepers who relentlessly work to keep the hair out of our showers, and to countless other individuals who have touched our lives so deeply and assisted in bringing out the best in us.

These little things turned out to be pretty big in shaping and impacting our lives here. I know I will forever cherish the friendships and bonds I made on these campus grounds.

Today, as I remember the first time I saw Skinner Green and stepped into Blanchard, I can also feel how much I’ve changed and how much my beliefs have changed over the years, how much I’ve seen the people on this campus change and embrace that change. I thank all those who stood in solidarity outside the Mount Holyoke gates for the Black Lives Matter movement; those who walked out and chanted for a sanctuary campus where we will feel safe and loved; those who worked relentlessly to spread the word about the Women’s March, and who went there with posters and hearts full of love and respect for equality; those who started and participated in the Tumblr blog #MoHonest, which speaks out against racism and shares many experiences of our students; those who conducted and participated in a campus-awareness photoshoot about immigrants and several other things for justice and equal rights. All these things are what we unitedly and successfully did, and are a perfect representation of who we are and what we at Mount Holyoke believe and stand for.

It seems funny to think that some believe an elite liberal arts education teaches one how to think. I believe our classes, professors and friends never taught us how to think. But they assisted in giving us a multi-faceted perspective of the world that enabled us to reflect and act. They never strictly told us to support a certain group because it’s right, but laid out the facts about what is happening and the consequences, so that we could make the right choice and bring about change. The intense discussions in classrooms and outside classrooms, and encouragements from professors and peers, have elicited the best versions of ourselves.

Like a pearl inside an oyster that is lying in the deepest part of the ocean, a deep, inner voice has existed within all of us that exudes purity, innocence, truth and justice. That voice that has been slowly unshackling from the unjust norms of society during these four years at Mount Holyoke and has come out as a roar. We never hesitate to lend an ear and a shoulder to each other when needed, and have learned to mutually respect one another, no matter how different our backgrounds and beliefs might be. We have learned to do that to such an extent that we don’t take a step back but step up when it comes to protecting the rights of our peers in black, Muslim, Jewish, LGBTQA, immigrant and many other marginalized communities.

As we leave this safe haven and go out into the world we must always carry this sense of solidarity, bold confidence, creativity, diligence and individuality that we cultivated here. In Bangladesh, I knew a girl through a family friend. She was a little younger than me and when she learned that I was applying to schools in the U.S., she shared with me her dream of becoming a geologist and wanting to come to the U.S. one day. I told her that she should absolutely apply. She laughed and said that her father’s annual income was barely $2,000 and then said that she was a girl. She reiterated to me what everyone impressed on her mind. She had so much self-doubt that she allowed her parents to almost make her quit school. So I secretly borrowed some money from my grandfather and aunt for two college applications. One day she came to my house and sobbed all night. She had gotten into a really good school on a full scholarship. I could only see the happiness — no self-doubt — beam through her tears.

Sometimes when all the chaotic voices around us are telling us how we should act and think, making us aware of our limitations, we can’t hear ourselves. We start to lose confidence in our dreams and the power in our voices and start to believe and follow what we hear. Like the writer Junot Díaz once said, “Every time someone gives you a formula for what you should be and what you should do, you should know they’re giving you a pair of handcuffs.” So, we should always assert to ourselves that we are undoubtedly capable of what we aspire to be and what we dream of doing.

Recently, so many things have happened that we never thought could happen. But they did. And among all this, we have to keep reminding ourselves to do what makes us and the ones we care about happy. Stand up for what is right and for what is fair. I feel that now, during such difficult times, we need to be more united than ever, and speak up and act up for each other. Nothing is impossible if we help each other and stand strong together no matter where we are in the world.

There are 500 to 600 of us sitting here today, with 500 to 600 different stories of our own. And across these four years, I think most of us have fully come to know only a handful of these stories. Yet the immense amount of respect we have and kindness we show to each other and our beliefs is what makes us unique and united. At Mount Holyoke, diversity is our strength. From this day onwards, as we emerge into various communities in different parts of the world, we must remember that we were born to be bold and we were born to be changemakers.

Today I am extremely honored to be standing in front of the most exceptional bunch of the smartest and boldest people in the country. I wish everyone all the best for the future and congratulations to all of us on completing this important milestone in our lives.