Student Commencement Address 2017
Remarks as prepared.
Welcome all, faculty and staff, family and friends, and especially the green griffins, Mount Holyoke’s graduating class of 2017!
We are gathered here today for a sole purpose, and that is to celebrate the past four years (give or take) of our time at our MoHome. No matter which corner of the country or the world we come from, a million tiny things have happened in each of our lives that have led up to today, so that we could share this moment together, shoulder-to-shoulder, in this beautiful amphitheater. From your grade-school feminist awakening, to your first time watching “Dirty Dancing,” to declaring your major, this instant has been years in the making.
The past few months leading up to our graduation have been a whirlwind. Not only were we managing the last year of our undergraduate careers, but the world was shifting in ways that were sometimes downright terrifying. I’m not going to go through the greatest hits-and-misses of 2016, but I’m sure we can all recall the highlights. Our campus community supported one another during a scary election cycle brimming with vitriol, but we pushed back. We pushed to protect our undocumented students, students of color, queer and trans students. We fought to maintain a safe space, on campus and in the world.
If Mount Holyoke has taught us anything, it’s how to PUSH.
The class of 2017 has upheld a tradition of social activism that started with the inception of Mount Holyoke. During our first year, we watched the MoHonest campaign unfold overnight. On a spring morning ordinary by all other accounts, we woke up to see the academic buildings blitzed with brightly colored strips of paper. On them were written instances of microaggressions faced by students of color on campus. We stared on in awe, solidarity and sometimes discomfort as the mosaic of student experiences demanded accountability from our community — and we took from this a legacy that would inform our future activism at Mount Holyoke.
We showed up for Black Lives Matter as sophomores, grieving the murder of Eric Garner and countless other black men, women and trans people. With Route 116 blocked, we let the campus, South Hadley community, and all of western Massachusetts know that we will not stand for structural violence against black and brown bodies.
We leaped in joy in this very same amphitheater two years ago in the culmination of the Open Gates MHC campaign, when Lynn Pasquerella announced that anyone identifying as a woman in pursuit of a Mount Holyoke education would now be able to attend our wonderful institution.
We came out in droves, in the largest crowd I’ve ever seen assemble on our campus, to demand sanctuary for our undocumented and immigrant students, and to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone whose safety and well-being is threatened.
We continue to push ourselves as students, as leaders, as activists. We’ve pushed in education, in data science, in politics. We’ve pushed as intersectional feminists, scientists and authors. And it is a given that we are going to shatter the glass ceiling with the force of this pushing. And I’m talking about the glass ceiling at every level we may encounter it — for people of color, for queer people, for trans people, for people with disabilities, for people who don’t look like me, for people who don't look like you.
I don’t look like a lot of you. I am a proud Kashmiri-American Muslim woman, a first-generation college student, and the day that I applied to Mount Holyoke, my family was living under the poverty line. And somehow, I made it — from the ’hood of Jersey City to this stage. A sentiment that got me through this transition is a verse from the Qur’an that I want to share with you all now: “Inna ma al usri yusran.” “Verily, with every hardship comes ease.”
And each one of us has a quote that inspires us, a story that drives us, something that the person beside you may never have imagined. Together, our mix of experiences and personalities and interests create an incredible, peculiar community that is unapologetically unlike any other, where you can jump from a conversation about Facebook memes to politicized homophobia quicker than you can say “problematic.” Where you can talk about a new friend and be stopped with a, “wait … how do they feel about ‘meninists,’ though?” It’s tightly knit in ways that few other communities are, the shared experience of being gender minorities holding us close together and catapulting us into leadership roles. It is the Mount Holyoke tendency to find ourselves in hours-long discussions about things that are bigger than ourselves, whether it be our aspirations or the world around us, initiated spontaneously over a Chef Jeff, or in a bustling dining hall, or in some bodega corner in Blanchard.
And of course, who can forget all our eccentric traditions? There are the M&Cs that have us lining up in front of the kitchen door at 9:29 p.m., the frantic checking of PVTA schedules on cold nights out, and the simple fact that we continue to pronounce it as the PVTA even though everyone else calls it the P-V-T-A. There is the bright, unfiltered joy of Pangy Day, a celebration of friendship, a realization of spring and another semester coming to a close. There is the deep- seated simultaneous love and hate of Jorge, our unofficial campus mascot and our favorite goose. There is the ritual of Orientation, where the wonder and excitement of the first-years seeps into the air at the beginning of each semester. Then we have the renewed hype of Dis-O, the class colors and unabashed cheers of Mount Holyoke students, both entering and leaving.
So yes, today, we are leaving. But our home of four years will not just be another place that we have lived. It will exist forever in our memories as a place that cultivated change (and where we told to never fear it). We have changed, from the friends we have made to the subjects we have studied. We have transformed from students interested in a field to graduates with a mastery of it. We have grown from people to global citizens. And we did all of this with the intention of making the world a better place — for ourselves, for our families, for our communities. So thank you, all, because this sort of growth is nothing if not a collective effort, nothing if not wholly emblematic of the Mount Holyoke community
When we think about crossing these gates later today and finding our way into the outside world, which may sometimes feel too large and too unkind, let us keep in mind the following Mexican proverb: “Quisieron enterrarnos pero no sabían que éramos semillas.” “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know that we were seeds.”
Indeed, we are seeds. And it is our time to flourish. Congratulations, class of 2017.