Full text: Haya Mohanna ’17 delivers student address at Commencement 2017
You know, I always knew that I was short, but it wasn’t until this morning when they told me I have to put a stool on the podium that I realized I’m really short.
President Riggs, distinguished guests, our amazing faculty members, staff members, proud parents and relatives and of course, Class of 2017.
For those who don’t know me, my name is Haya and I am an international student from the Gaza Strip, Palestine. A liaison organization called the Hope Fund, brought my application to Gettysburg College. And Gettysburg said we will take her and I said “ok!”. I remember Gettysburg Shuttle picking me up from Reagan Airport and on my way to the unknown, I started seeing building go shorter, taxies disappearing, farmland appearing and I said to myself, “oh, this is not good. Haya here is the plan: you finish your business administration degree and whatever they need as a liberal arts college and you get out of this place.”
Well, here I am. Four years later, letting you know that not only I discovered that Gettysburg College does not offer a business administration degree, but also nothing went according to plan!! And I could not be more thankful for that.
In fact, lots of things did not go according to plan. Our first few weeks, we have all encountered at least one person who was a current student at that time and praised the moment they met their OL, RA, random first year roommate, the person next to them at the First Year walk, or their convocation speaker because he/she made it Gettysburg Great for them. Well, for me, it was different because honestly I don’t remember any of these people except of course my first year roommate. But I do remember how people felt a sense of belonging. They felt pride to carry the Orange and Blue and to be part of this community. The answer to “how you like it here?’ was always “oh I love it!”. My first year went by, and I realized that I did not. I did not feel the same way. I did not love it nor did I belong. I desperately wanted this place my home away from home.
I stayed my first summer here on campus working in the Residential & First-Year Programs Office (yeah, ask me how many time I had to say that on the phone!) and that summer, a war happened at home between Israel and Gaza. For 50 days, I had minimum communications to know whether my parents were alive. At one point I lost all sort of communications and I would go into work and the first thing I did was to check the death reports. My family at Res life and yes I do call them a family, saw me at my worst, they offered support, they were there every minute of it. I kept asking myself, it is worth it? If i wake up and I lose everything I knew, is this place worth it? I can’t tell you why but all i know is that my guts said yes. Things got harder and harder at home and it was clear that my goodbye to my family in August of my first year was going to be my goodbye for a while. It was then when I made the decision to get busy and embrace my moments here. If not for me, at least for them!
I stand here today, have not seen my family or gone home since I left my first year, Telling you this place is my home. In these past years, I met friends, staff, professors, even families off campus and host parents who opened their homes and were the hand i needed when I fell down.
My experience might be different, but it is for sure no better or worse. We are all different! Some of us belonged since day one and some of us belonged day 1000 and some of us still don’t feel like they belong. BUT, we all have something in common; we are sitting here today wearing a cap and gown and carrying the orange and blue.
We have all pushed our comfort limits, embraced our failures, said YES to things we did not know about, somehow made bragging about the back-to-back all-nighters admirable, sat in professors’ office hours to discuss ideas and asked their help to be part of something bigger than who we are. We thanked Linda, the omelet lady, for making our brunches a bit less painful!
Met different people with different mindsets, beliefs, backgrounds, identities that challenged you and at the end of the day you asked yourself, what do I STAND FOR?
The list can go on and on but yes that’s all you and much beyond
I know your attention span has long past but let me bring it back to you by asking you to do two things:
Class of 2017, take a moment and give yourself a pat on the back because you made it and you deserve it. [hold]
Next, please I ask you to rise and look around you…spot your friends, professors, parents and give them a round of applause, because they deserve it too! Thank you.
One day in my methods class taught by the amazing professor Jamie O’Brien. He showed us a video of a guy who got mind-blown for seeing a double rainbow! The video was about 4 minutes long of screams of astonishment while we sat there in pure confusion! He ended the video and said “SO WHAT, a double-rainbow, so what?” that’s the question i want you to answer picking your research topic. I am going to spare you from watching the video (although feel free to do so in your free time, it is quite something). But i am going to ask you: SO WHAT?
Take your Gettysburg roots and don’t aim for the sky, but rather make it your start. We are powered with weapons; weapons of knowledge, diversity, global citizenship. We are critical thinkers. Challenge yourself every day to make an impact and just remember how that one hand was your savior here, be that one hand someday to someone else. Ask yourself, if not me, then who? If not now, then when?
To celebrate with all the languages I know I would like to say in my mother language, Arabic Mabruk and in French Felicitation and finally, in a language that unites us, Class of 2017, Congratulations!