Undergraduate student speaker Noor Ghanam’s address to the Class of 2022

Undergraduate student speaker Noor Ghanam, who earned a biology degree from Arts & Sciences, celebrated the resilience of the Class of 2022. (Photo: Whitney Curtis/Washington University)

Undergraduate student speaker Noor Ghanam, who earned a degree from Arts & Sciences, delivered her message to the Class of 2022 at Washington University in St. Louis during the Friday, May 20, Commencement ceremony on Francis Olympic Field.

Below are Ghanam’s prepared remarks to the graduates.

“Thank you” doesn’t begin to encapsulate the gratitude that I carry for all the faculty, staff, family, alums and other community members who have done so much to enrich the WashU experience for myself and others in the Class of 2022. I view your investment in our education as an act of faith in us, and I am incredibly grateful that you found the Class of 2022 worth investing in. You’ve made this day, the last four years that led up to it, and every success that will come from our WashU education, possible.

Over the last four years, I have met WashU students that started their own businesses, worked with lawmakers, were featured in The New York Times for their advocacy, or had their name mentioned in prestigious scientific journals. The students at this university and their capacity for what we traditionally consider high achievement is astounding, and I feel humbled to be on stage today, representing such an accomplished class.

At the same time, I would like to take a moment to celebrate the accomplishments we don’t immediately associate with graduation. The first word that comes to mind when I think of the Class of 2022 is resilience. We are a unique graduating class in that three out of our four years at WashU have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and as a consequence, we’ve spent time grieving for the experiences we missed out on while we were spending semesters of college on Zoom getting to know each other’s pets and younger siblings, and helping out our parents and grandparents that don’t know how to use technology. 

All kidding aside, there may be a myriad of reasons as to why we all decided to go to college and chose WashU. But from what I know of the Class of 2022, it’s reasonable to assume that the majority of us hoped to walk out of college feeling as if we had either made a significant difference in the world, or were on the track to doing so. In the last few weeks, I have been speaking to my graduating peers about their greatest fears for post-grad life, and the most prominent theme has been this fear of going out into the world and tackling climate change, pandemics and other pressing global issues. 

Earlier in this speech I said that I view this WashU education as an act of faith. You are here because there are people who believe in you and your ability to make this world a better place. Your desire to make a change is a gift that deserves to be cultivated and deserves to see the light. You will find a way to impact the world — beyond the ways you have already — so allow yourself to use your imagination for something other than fear of the future. Life is long, we are young, and our passion, imagination and capacity for collaboration are in abundance.

However, it’s easy to forget when surrounded by fancy regalia in a prestigious academic setting that making a change doesn’t have to be an enormous task. Change is in the smaller things. Whenever I’m asked why I love WashU, my answer, as cliche as it is, is immediately “the people.”

You’ve made a difference by buying a friend sushi from Lopata with your extra meal points, showing up to a student protest about divesting from fossil fuels, helping a peer in your microbiology lab with homework, letting a student pet your dog on your way to class, being a counselor with Uncle Joes, giving out pins by the DUC and educating about consent, writing op-eds in StudLife and organizing events such as Vertigo or Carnaval or LNYF that strengthen our community. Kindness, solidarity, enthusiasm and curiosity, which often show up in small acts, are some of the best ways to make an impact, and the Class of 2022 has shown me over the last four years that we exhibit all of these qualities. 

It’s how we made it through this pandemic, and how we will continue to move through an uncertain future together, the key word being “together.” The relationships you’ve built at WashU won’t end the minute you receive your diploma. Once a member of this vast WashU community, always a member of the WashU community. 

Noor Ghanam takes a second of video of her with the Class of 2022. Ghanam has documented her four years at Washington University by taking one second of video every day for 780 days. (Photo: Sid Hastings/Washington University)

Now anybody who has spent time with me at WashU knows that I’ve been taking a video nearly every single day for the last four years to incorporate in my “Second A Day Video.” I started during freshman orientation, and now the video is thirteen minutes long. That’s 780 seconds, 780 days, that I was doing something at WashU, and thought, ‘this is a moment that I’d like to remember.’ 

I haven’t taken my second-a-day video yet today. And it would be my greatest honor if you could all be in my final video of my time here as a WashU undergraduate.

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