Editor’s note: Mahsheed Mahjor, a former Star Student, recently graduated from Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania, U.S. She was chosen as a student speaker for the 2017 commencement ceremony. Mahsheed, a member of the Class of 2017 who graduated with a bachelor of arts in women in the socio-political world (self-designed major) and international studies with a concentration in peace & conflict studies, echoed the good citizenship theme that ran through Commencement weekend. During Mahsheed’s undergraduate studies, she received the Muhlenberg Leadership Excellence Award, is a former ANNpower Vital Voices Fellow and recipient of the Carol Emhardt Kuntzleman Memorial Award. The text below are excerpts from her speech.
Congratulations class of 2017! We did it!
We did it because we had amazing families, friends and mentors by our sides! We did it with the care of the staff that remembered the types of cookies that we liked! We did it with the joy of mid-night breakfast! We did it with the support of our excellent professors who challenged our views and pushed us to seek deeper and go beyond our perceptions and assumptions and when stuck, they guided us with wisdom, kindness and intelligence!
I came to the United States in 2010 as an exchange student from Afghanistan, a country that much of the world immediately links with violence, terrorism and oppression of women. I come from a country where many people, especially girls, do not have access to education and some study in open-air classrooms in hot and cold. They often have to walk a few hours to reach to a school.
Thus, as a first-generation college student, I have taken every moment of my education and particularly my Muhlenberg education to heart. Because it reminded me that education is an absolute privilege. I will never take it for granted for it has transformed my life in ways that I could not have imagined. Among others, education encouraged me to be a critical thinker. Education taught me how interconnected and interdependent our complex world is and how beautiful and meaningful these relationships could be. And education motivated me to stand for human liberation and human dignity, and I hope that it has done the same for you.
The heartbreaking news from inside the United States and around the globe is evidence that the world is a bloody awful place for many, in case you have not realized it yet! It is so, because of unequal distribution of wealth and power, it is so because racism and sexism are often put before human dignity, it is so because the life of some appears to worth more than others. For instance, the lives of those who are killed in third world countries vs. those who are killed in first world countries… and more. But the good news is that our Liberal Arts education has prepared us to use tools, such as analytical thinking, and having multiple perspectives to fight these extremely troubling shortcomings of our time.
During these past four years, we have marched, celebrated, questioned, protested, laughed, cried, discussed, resisted, cared, achieved, failed and stood back up together. These have enabled us to build further bridges between Muhlenberg and the world. The world is full of events that excite, scare, upset and inspire us, from the new human innovations to the refugee crisis and to the individuals who rise wholeheartedly against the violation of human rights. We are living in a world that needs more equity, peace, compassion, love, respect, support, empathy and most of all HOPE! Additionally, the social, economic, religious and political aspects of our societies require us to think about the world in complex ways and move away from our biases. Thus, it is immensely important to remember that for strong and vigilant citizenship we need to continue to foster and enrich our analytical and critical thinking abilities.
From here, it does not matter where we will go, what matters is what we will we do. What kinds of marks and footprints will we leave in the world; whether we are working with a fancy NGO, or researching in a lab in California, or performing in a Broadway show in New York, or working right here in Lehigh Valley, we must remember that our crucial task is what we will do for others, for those who do not have the privileges that we do. We should continue to be global citizens, being concerned for what does not necessarily impact us directly, but does impact a fellow human being near or far from us! Now, that is what matters from today on! We ought to think and work towards a common goal, towards human liberation, towards something bigger than ourselves, towards a world that would reduce and dismantle institutionalized classism, racism and sexism and foster social justice and equity. Instead of ‘I, me’, we should say ‘Us, we’! Acknowledging each other’s differences, and embrace them for good!
Today, we are leaving Muhlenberg, perhaps as nervous as the first day that we got here, but the difference is that today we are well equipped with tools that make us more capable of working towards a prosperous, just and equitable world for all. During these past four years, Muhlenberg has deeply touched our souls and minds! Muhlenberg has encouraged and challenged us to think critically, be courageous and be open-minded towards those who are different from us, and do all these with integrity and kindness. And let’s make sure that we will carry these values with us, as we enter into our uncertain, complicated and exciting world! And remember to use your power to empower, for it will help you to have a more fulfilling and meaningful life!
Before, I finish; I would like to share a poem by one of my favorite poets, Hafez Shirazi. It conveys a relevant message for us, to face the good and the bad surprises that life has for us down the road. These two lines, in my own loose translation, remind us how to face those surprises:
“Oh, holy bird, give me strength, for the path is long and I am only a beginner.”
Best of luck class of 2017! It has been an incredible ride with you! And one more time: Congratulations! Thank you.