June 14, 2020
Student government president, Sama Mahdi, gave a tribute to the graduating class at Vermont Commons School Commencement on Friday, June 12, 2020:
Good afternoon. First, I want to congratulate and thank my class for making it to this day and for entrusting me with this honor. I also want to thank the amazing faculty who have each individually inspired and touched us in ways that we are grateful for. But most importantly, I want to thank my family, mom, and dad, thank you.
I want to start off by addressing the elephant in the room, or should I say the field? I know it may not feel like it, but we are the chosen, united class: the pandemic class. Never has a graduating class been called to step into the future with more purpose, passion, and hope. As much as I am sure that we love our parents, being stuck at home with them playing board games and watching Netflix shows is not how we envisioned our senior year. But I encourage us all to take a deep breath and remind ourselves that despite everything, we made it.
I began at Vermont Commons School (VCS) when I was 14 years old. I was shy, introverted, and did not understand the true meaning of community. I was not “new” at being the new kid. I was born in Baghdad, Iraq. After moving to the US, being the new kid was all I knew. But my educational experience set that aspect of me away through the sense of community, a quality that is so embodied by VCS students and faculty that it changed me as a person.
Arriving at Oakledge Park on the first day of school, I was welcomed with open arms, warm hearts, and Helena’s sarcastic jokes that accompanied me throughout my journey at VCS. I grew from a shy introverted kid to a strong, opinionated, trailblazing woman. As you all know, there are many things that make VCS the special place that it is, but to me, the most common theme that ties its values together is kindness.
Now, I understand that one sees the word kindness and thinks of it as light, fluffy, or cliche, but that is wrong. I am talking about real kindness, whether it’s Jen making endless batches of brownies for the senior English class, or getting out into the real world to give back to our communities through advisory service and more. I see kindness at VCS in the teachers who constantly pushed us to challenge ourselves and encouraged us to grow. Kindness from our peers who have supported us through the years. Without this kindness, I would have never succeeded as Student Body President, club leader, social activist, student, attained a full ride to study engineering in the fall, or even have the confidence to stand before you today. Instead, I stand strong before you, a change in me that was achieved through the continuous care that people showed me.
Now, as I was getting ready to write this speech for all of you today, I watched the many graduation ceremonies taking place with numerous luminaries celebrating us on the Facebook stage. I am honored to join them (somewhat in person) to salute you, salute us. I want to point out an important message I heard in Oprah’s 2020 commencement speech, when she stated, “ Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. If humanity is a global body, then every one of us is a cell in that body. Today we are challenged like never before to keep that global body and mind healthy. The best way to do this is achieved through kindness, to yourself, family, others.”
To my classmates with me here: we are incredibly lucky and privileged to have had the education we received. In this graduating class, college prep students, we are all academically capable. It took blood, sweat, and sometimes tears (if we were going to take one of Keegan’s tests) to get to where we are today. As I try to think of another anecdote to describe our class’ dynamic, apart from the endless bromance embodied by Seth and Milo and or the late-night Facetimes as we tried to figure out homework, I can’t help but think back to our ninth grade bike trip. With 4 days worth of sweat, we sat on the grass discussing our day’s accomplishment when all of a sudden Owen broke the silence of the campground with “uhhhh guys?”, at that moment we all turned to Owen who was glowing from the broken glow stick that was now all over his shirt. At first, we all erupted in laughter, but soon, we each started to figure out a way to help. Thinking back to that moment, what I notice is that Owen chose to say “uhh guys” instead of “oh my god why did I just snap a glow stick in half?” Owen thought of his class, turned to us to get him out of the glowing state that he was in.
Graduating means saying goodbye to my 14 closest friends, something that I have constantly avoided thinking about because that will be the hardest part about today. For some, high school is a miserable time that they can’t wait to end; this could not be more untrue for me. To my class, thank you for making saying goodbye so hard.
With the help of our teachers and counselors, we now know how to love tenderly, nurture one another, and effectively state the full definition of natural selection in the fastest manner possible. Each of us is authentic and high achieving. Our class never fractured or split, or stopped being kind and supportive. That is why we are here today. When I think about our 2020 class body, I think back to our class’s senior retreat way back in August. All 15 of us sat around the fire as Mark and Ben asked us the question each senior class is asked at the beginning of the year. “What do you want to be remembered for as a class?” Immediately, without any hesitation, our class’s response was, “We want to be the class that is remembered for their kind actions, nice words, and supportive nature.” Each and every one of us here today has bestowed an act of kindness on the others which has allowed us to thrive. I want to take a moment to thank each of you.
- Jackson: Thank you for being so giving and willing to help all the time. Your altruism is rare. Nothing you’ve done has gone unnoticed.
- Reeves: Your calm and sophisticated presence has inspired many and will continue to wherever you go.
- Milo: Whether it’s talking with friends, or stealing people’s food, your energy and character can make anyone smile; don’t ever stop making people laugh, the world needs more of that.
- Julian: Thank you for teaching me to speak my mind, your strong nature and powerful mind will continue to inspire others, don’t stop being bold.
- Ella S.S: Thank you for the endless hugs and random gecko facts that you have enlightened us with over the past years. You always see the best in people, don’t lose that.
- Owen: Your unique approach to things and your individuality is powerful. Embrace it. I will miss hearing you talk to your birds and telling me to tackle each calculus problem one thing at a time. You taught me to approach things with clarity.
- Kent: Thank you for being a role model for all of us and especially my little brother. I will miss procrastinating on Keegan’s honors work with you and learning about your inspiring racing career. Your kind heart and passion will take you far.
- Jess: Your compassion for others, humor, and acting skills have inspired us all. You have been there for all of us in times of need. Thank you for teaching me to be strong even when things get hard.
- Tess: Your brain is your superpower. Your calm presence has anchored us. I am going to miss your presence and you telling me to never settle for less.
- Seth: From the ultimate fields to the Statehouse climate change conference. We are all proud of the person that you have become. You are strong-willed and that will take you far.
- Ella D: You are a true leader. Your compassion, strength, and honesty has always inspired me. I have loved watching you grow over the past 6 years. I will miss you telling me to get more sleep and making our class quizlets. The world needs a leader like you.
- Helena: Your writing skills and parking skills have astonished many. I admire the way that you stand up for what you believe in. Thank you for sustaining our class on chocolate pretzels and being my salsa partner in Spanish class. Your hard work has paid off and will continue to.
- Ariel: You have grown into not only an artist but also a mentor and inspiration for many. I admire your power to inspire.
- Katie: Your mature presence has centered our chaotic class. Thank you for the daily check-ins and genuine care for all that is around you. Your warmth and smile always make my day.
I urge you all to look at the change that hard work and compassion brought, to who I am and who we are now. We are graduating during a global crisis, a pandemic, and worldwide expression of outrage at the senseless killing of black Americans. We don’t need progress, innovation, commerce or to come up with new apps in Silicon Valley to save our world; we need kindness. If we want to change the world, the situation that we are in, we must first resort to opening our hearts. It is anti-racist, anti-bigotry, and full of love.
Think of those who have challenged you: Your families, your teachers. How have they been kind to you? Each one of them has shaped the way that we have walked in life up to this point. The world today has only allowed the work of those who perform essential services. We are the future. What will our essential service be? I believe that we need to employ kindness. Though these are uncertain times, I believe that we are ready for this moment. We have seen that in the past few years, and especially the past few weeks, that when put to positive action, our collective hearts can become the catalyst for change. Real change. I believe in our powerful minds and hearts and our togetherness. I know we are capable of tackling what is next to come. I am rooting for us. Congratulations class of 2020!