by Mohammad Samra / Section Editor
I promised no flashing cameras. I promised no cap and gown. I promised no ceremonies. I promised I didn’t need to hear my name called in May.
However, I find myself standing on stage under the bright lights of the Auditorium Theatre, a camera focused on my cap and gown. My name rings through the empty theatre as I’m introduced as the student speaker for this year’s commencement ceremony.
“I’m walking my own stage” was written to explain that the journey is more important than the moment. Whether Roosevelt’s 2021 graduation ceremony was in-person or not, my thoughts on the event would have remained the same. I mean no disrespect to the ceremony, but I’ve always been one to look toward the future — I’ve reflected on the past long enough.
I was shocked to learn of my nomination to be a student speaker this year. Speakers are either nominated by themselves or are recommended by a faculty member. From there, nominees are interviewed by the Commencement Committee and a speaker for each of the two ceremonies are chosen shortly after. I’ve learned to accept my value as a journalist, but I still struggle to realize how valuable I can be outside of my articles. I write so readers can learn from and relate to my work, but I never thought my efforts would cause so many individuals to invest in who I am outside of my pieces.
I went into my interview fully expecting not to be chosen for the position. Part of me didn’t even want it. The Commencement Committee asked what I could bring to the graduation ceremony that other students couldn’t.
“Vulnerability and failure.”
I briefly spoke of my triumphs at Roosevelt, but spent a majority of my interview going over some of my lowest points as a college student. I find more comfort in failure than I do in success, and I wanted them to see that.
The interview concluded with me telling the committee I had no plans of attending graduation. Though I appreciated the nomination, speaking at the ceremony wasn’t going to do anything for my future. I accepted the interview, and eventually the position, out of respect for the professors who nominated me. They put forth the effort to recommend me, the least I could do was ensure their time wasn’t wasted.
My phone buzzed as I read the email stating I was chosen to be this year’s speaker. I stood still as packages continued to flood down each belt of the outbound area of the UPS facility.
“Why me?” The question consumed me for days. “What made me different? What made them think so highly of me?”
I posted a screenshot of the email I received on Snapchat. The social media app had become a home for my accomplishments. My parents also spread word of the news quickly once they found out.
Messages flooded from friends, family, colleagues and professors congratulating me on the accomplishment.
After a week, I realized the importance of the opportunity I had been given. I initially didn’t want to attend graduation because I was ready for the next chapter of my life. Being chosen to be the student speaker made me realize that maybe this chapter isn’t quite finished yet, though.
I sat in one of the back rows of the nearly empty Auditorium Theatre as I prepared for the first commencement taping. It was as if I was an NFL player sitting in an empty stadium before the Super Bowl.
For most of my life, I’ve lacked a voice. Recording my speech for the pre-taped graduation will provide me a platform I’ve only seen in my dreams. It is my opportunity to represent everyone who stood by my side along my journey.
It is also my chance to be a role model to anyone who feels as if they’re not worthy of the life they dream of. I’ve faced resistance to my dreams from the second I stepped into Roosevelt University, but that hasn’t stopped me from continuing to chase those dreams.
Most importantly, I get to recognize Fabian Ortega in front of hundreds of students, friends, family and faculty. Fabian was my best friend who lost his year-and-a-half battle with cancer last July. I promised his name would become synonymous with mine after he passed. Each screen tuned into the ceremony will hear his name echo throughout the theatre, exactly as my name did minutes earlier.
Stepping into the role of student graduation speaker taught me to enjoy every second of the next couple months. I’ve worked hard, as all alumni have, to reach this moment. I have no reason to rush whatever awaits me, and I think I deserve a little bit of happiness.
I still believe my stage is built from the experiences I’ve endured over the last four years, but I now know that your stage is also an important part of mine, and I’m honored to be able to share a piece of my stage with you.
For seniors, graduation will be the culmination of your difficult journeys over the last few years — speaking to you all when graduation goes live on May 7 will be the culmination of mine.