Commencement Address: Valedictorian Reem Ahmed (Sunday, May 20, 2018)

Thank you President Christian, and good morning faculty, staff, family, friends, Augie the dog, and fellow graduates. It is truly an honor to represent the graduating class of 2018. With the perfect storm of wonderful professors, fantastic and encouraging friends, and an amazing family, I’m able to stand before you today to celebrate us.

We all started our journey when Vine and Yik Yak were still a thing, so we’ve come a long way. We knew little of what we would become or what we would accomplish, but we leave knowing who we are. As a freshman, I remember spending many sleepless nights thinking of schools I could transfer to because I felt out of place here, and to be honest, just this once, I thank myself for being too lazy to get out of bed and actually do something about it. Back then, I didn’t have a particular reason why I chose to attend SUNY New Paltz. I kind of just followed a couple of my friends here, but look where I ended up. So, next time your parents ask you if you’re going to do something just because all your friends are, I give you permission to say, yes.

Once I opened my mind to the amazing opportunities available at New Paltz, however, it didn’t take me long to fall in love with this school and its community. This liberal arts college has offered us compassion, support, and open mindedness to question everything around us. We were given the freedom to create the change we wished to see on campus.  I know that I have not only grown academically, but personally and socially as well. And, although I have no intention of peaking at 21 years old, I have to admit, these three and a half years have been the best of my life.

But with that said, I have realized that transitioning from a “college student” to an “adult” means much more than no more student discounts. I still have to completely get over my fear of dogs, and I apologize to all my accounting professors, but I probably couldn’t tell the difference between a W-2 and a W-4. But, I have learned some things at this college that I feel have prepared me for the real world and wanted to share them with you.

It is here that I connected with people who are believers and passionate about leaving their mark on the world. It is here that I realized my true potential and witnessed others do the same. Here, I learned that the moments that really matter are when life tells you no, and you still choose to persevere. But most of all my fellow graduates, if there is one thing that SUNY New Paltz has taught me, it is to never let anyone tell you that you can’t…. that you can’t start studying for an exam the night before, that you can’t write that 10-page paper the day it’s due, or that you can’t change your major seven times like me and still graduate on time–because by sitting here today we have proved that we can. So Class of 2018, I know that we can and we will change the world one day.

The fighting spirit of our student body has always inspired me. We have fought for curves on tough exams, extra credit (sometimes even when we didn’t deserve it), and fish bowls from Asian Fusion three days after our actual birthdays.

So I encourage you to use this fighting spirit toward building a better future. Let’s fight to build a country where students in high schools and colleges like you and I can walk across their campus without the fear of being shot. Let’s fight for safety, for equality, and for change that leads to innovation.

Now, this future might consist of flying cars, and I hope to God that we have our first woman President soon. But what I know for sure is that we will have inquisitive minds dedicated to making this world more livable and more equitable, no matter how difficult the task. We will use the knowledge, talent, and passions we have developed here to engage different communities, and I hope we always stay “woke” because our voices are our strongest weapons. Things may not always turn out our way, but then again success is a product of bravery, not perfection. And through it all we should remember to count our blessings more often than we count our money. We will always live in abundance.

Before I close, I want to give a big thank you to my honors advisor, Pat Sullivan, and all my other professors for having the patience to answer every single one of my emails at two in the morning. Thank you to my best friends, Ancy and Shilpa, for never taking me too seriously when I said that I failed an exam. And lastly, a huge shout-out to Z and Mama Ahmed for always holding it down and asking where the last two points went when I got a 98 on an exam. You made me into the woman I am today, and for that and so much more, I am eternally grateful.

Today, we are leaving equipped with tools to address problems that may not even exist yet; with the knowledge that we can do anything we set our hearts to. But most of all, we are leaving with a head full of dreams and an education that can make those dreams a reality, and with lifelong friendships built from timeless memories.So real world, we’re coming for you.

SUNY New Paltz Class of 2018, congratulations to us all, and thank you!