An Immigrant’s Search for Community
by Nemat Sadat
Dear fellow alums:
No words can describe how happy I became when I moved to Cambridge to pursue my master’s degree in Journalism in 2008. I was ecstatic to study within the gates of Harvard Yard, a place that has nurtured secular ideas, has inspired many Novelists, and has revolutionized science. And to live in the state of Massachusetts which has been a pioneer in promoting freedom and liberty was a source of pride for me.
I come to you from Orange County, California by way of Kabul, Afghanistan. My homeland, Afghanistan, is a nation where for more than two decades, first under Soviet occupation and then under the repressive Taliban regime, the people’s voices were sanctioned and silenced. But today, we read a different story: about malnourished Afghan girls going to school despite the threats of acid-spraying attacks and bomb blasts. I am moved when I see the hunger for education and the struggle to fight against all odds.
Today, I live with a deep sense of survivor’s guilt; having the privilege to escape war and poverty while leaving my fellow country people behind. But I have no regrets though. Call me naïve and idealistic, but I came to Harvard because I hope to change the perception of my homeland and to help Afghanistan rise above the ashes.
When I arrived at Harvard I realized how lucky I am to live and study in an inclusive and tolerant community. I am forever grateful to the exceptional instructors who showed me how to emerge as a professional writer and to all my fellow classmates who have enriched my life. When I ran for President of Harvard Extension Student Association last year, I realized the meaning of friendship and solidarity. While I did not win, I still earned the opportunity to meet a large number of our students and learned about who we are as a holistic community. What I found out is that students attending Harvard Extension School are life-long learners with a bold spirit and eager to evolve as the critical thinkers and problem solvers of tomorrow. We are dynamic individuals and in our own way rekindling the American Dream by investing in the promise of academia.
But beyond the idyllic life at Harvard, there is an uncomfortable story about one-sixth of humankind trapped in abject poverty. The disastrous earthquakes in Haiti last January are a reminder of the silent devastation occurring elsewhere.
World leaders have been telling us that humanity is at peril—that we face multiple risks from climate change, a burgeoning world population, and the inability for the global economy to absorb the hundreds of millions of laborers entering the workforce each year.
A generation ago, a high school diploma ensured a middle-class life in America. But today even an advanced degree from Harvard neither guarantees job security nor a decent quality of life. This is why our generation will have to pioneer new ways to shore up our economy, and to take the initiative to do so in a more humane and sustainable manner.
As we go out into the workforce or start our own enterprise, we will do so in an increasingly globalized world. Whether we pursue a career in public service, express ourselves through the arts, or lead the corporations of tomorrow, our generation will be put to the test to protect our “unalienable rights” of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness in an age of market instability and trans-national terrorist movements.
My journey to speak in front of you today began as a child when I used to stutter and was unable to complete a sentence without mumbling. I was often teased and got frustrated when I was not understood. Growing up I prayed that one day I would be able to communicate clearly and thoughtfully. So speaking to all of you today is also a personal victory for me. Thank you for making my wish my come true.
Congratulations to the Class of 2010. I am proud to be celebrating this special day with you and hope that we will continue our effort to make a better world. Blessings to all of you in the road ahead!
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