President Young, distinguished faculty and guests, my fellow students, friends and family: Rumi, the great Sufi mystic and the most widely read poet around the world once said, “Your soul is worth more than the heavens and the earth; don’t sell it at a lower price.”
I have read this poem several times during the past many years. But today, when I stand here, with an undergraduate degree in my hand, with a world of knowledge around me and a world of opportunities ahead of me and with the realization that I can be whoever I want to be, is the day when I really come to truly understand the meaning of this verse.
Today is a most significant occasion and a moment of personal victory for me. I was born and raised in Pakistan, a country of immense beauty, culture, and diversity in tradition. But at the same time my country is a developing nation. A country where the female population has a very low literacy rate and a college degree is not an appropriate goal for the majority of the female population.
My father, my three uncles and many other male members of my family came to the United States for their education and I always dreamt of doing the same but being a woman from the global south where many women can only dream of going to college in their own country, it was a very farfetched idea. Today as I stand here, realizing the once seemingly impossible dream, graduation becomes a huge personal victory for me. Now I have a chance to return to the land that I call home and contribute to the development of my country.
I believe that the best way to help my country develop is to develop myself. So I will do this by doing my best to meet the challenges that I know I will face in that path and I hope that all of my fellow graduates will do the same. This is our challenge; this is our opportunity and most importantly, this is our obligation to ourselves and our nations. Each of us in our own way and in our own chosen areas of academic study have faced the challenges, difficulties and sacrifices that are required to earn a college degree and we have been victorious. Each of us is the product of our up-bringing. Our cultures are different, our languages are different, and our experiences are different. Independent of such diversity, we had the intellect, mind and sprit to ignore weaknesses, and capture the true opportunities that reflected the highest level of learning. Tonight we share a common bond and we are united by very memorable experiences. Regardless of our situation, whoever we are, wherever we came from, we did it. We overcame. We persevered and we accomplished our goal. Our commitment to education was a decision to strive for more, to fight for a future despite the past; to embrace the hope of a better life for us and for all. Today, we celebrate that we are one step closer to reaching that better life of which we dream not only for us but for the whole human race.
Today, we also celebrate the love and commitment of our families, friends, churches, mosques and other networks that helped us to reach this milestone. I am a daughter, a sister, a wife and a mother; in fact none of us stands here alone today. We honor and celebrate all those who believed in us, sacrificed for us and who brought us to this moment.
We all have spent memorable moments in this university, we made many good friends, attended some of the most amazing arts and cultural events, listened to the lectures of scholars from all around the country, took classes with some of the amazing faculty with wonderful scholarship, most of all we met with people from around the globe, we learned new ways of living, we explored new traditions that we would never have known if not exposed to the diverse environment on this campus. We all lived in a world of ideas, a world of knowledge and a world of information.
The purpose of a university education is the intellectual development of a person so he is able to think critically, to analyze and to make the right choice. The purpose of a university education is to make us capable of differentiating between right and wrong. The purpose of a university education is the discovery of our own purpose in life. And that is exactly what the University of Utah did for me. The university community has given me the most important thing in my life. The most important thing in anyone’s life; a confidence of being able to achieve one’s dreams. And as we all walk this stage we should walk with a faith in our own abilities to surpass the hardest challenges of our lives. When we walk across the stage to accept our respective degrees I would urge you to reflect upon the struggles life has presented you when you strove to attain your education and what a truly glorious struggle and a splendid experience it has been to understand yourself and your own value in the realm of life; graduation is a process that goes on until the last day of our lives and in real life we will graduate every day.
Our world is a sad place today; it is a world filled with conflict and pain, injustice and inequity. Today, in this changing world of wars, poverty, hunger and oppression, we come out as the fortunate college graduates. Today we have no idea of what challenges lay ahead. We do not know what obstacles and opportunities we will encounter and we even do not know if we will ever reach all of our goals in life. But we do know that we have the capability of surpassing any hardship, that we have the skills and the knowledge to make this world a better place. Today as we walk out of here with our degrees in our hands as a ticket to a good life, let me ask you to think of an alternative. Think of this degree as your ticket to change the world. Let the beauty of what you love be what you do in your future. And rest assured that we will reach any goal, no matter how impossible it is. Because once again as Rumi said, we should not be willing to settle for anything less than the true value of our souls. If we can grasp that then life will be a beautiful struggle for us and we will make a difference.
Congratulations to you all, the class of 2007! I wish you all best of luck in your endeavors and hope that you continue to work hard to make the world a better place than when you entered it.