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Leyla Suleiman: Commencement speech finalist shares speech excerpt

Senior commencement spech fianlist Leyla Suleiman ’17. Photo courtesy of Suleiman. ‘17
Name: Leyla Suleiman.

Majors: English literature and Educational Studies (teaching and learning track), minor in Classics.

Extracurriculars: I was the leader of the Mac Muslim Student Association for two years, and stepped into an informal mentor role during my senior year. I worked at the Macalester Academic Excellence (MAX) Center as an office assistant and appointment coordinator for my first two years at Mac, and then as a writing tutor during my last two years. Outside of Mac, I worked at an after school program at Pratt Elementary School for just over a year, and taught seventh grade literature for two summers at Breakthrough Twin Cities and LearningWorks. I currently co-lead a middle school-age Muslim girls empowerment group called Pearls of Hope, volunteer to teach Islamic Studies at my local masjid and work at Ramsey Country Historical Society on improving its equity and inclusivity practices.

Post-grad plans: Since I intend to teach English Language Arts at either the middle or high school level, I’ll be spending the next few years completing licensure prerequisite courses, working part-time as an Education Assistant and applying to grad schools. I’m also pursuing my passion for museum equity work, so I may work part-time or volunteer in that field as well. In the long term, I’m open to exploring education administration and policy work, or teaching at a post-secondary institution; however, I plan to teach secondary education first because of my passion for youth work and activism.

Why I wanted to speak: Being nominated to speak at commencement was an incredible honor, and since we’re graduating into a particularly contentious global atmosphere, I wanted to take this honor as an opportunity to pause. The goal of my speech was to emphasize mindfulness and self-compassion as necessary aspects of the challenging work and activism to which we are each called.

Excerpt: “Asalaamu ‘alaikum, may peace be upon you all on this beautiful day, and momentous occasion. It is with joy and gratitude that I stand here today, celebrating our commencement into a new stage of life. As we move toward the futures that await us, we can find comfort in the strength that has gotten us this far, and in the purpose that has propelled us forward.

Thinking back to my first year at Macalester, I can see that I arrived with the internalized message that I should treat others the way I would like to be treated, and believed that I would find peace and happiness if I made my actions and words contribute to the peace and happiness of others. This sentiment is what led me, as I suspect it led many of you, to take on the world’s burdens as my own. I think it drives our work.

Yet as our Facebook newsfeeds and Twitter timelines grew darker with videos of police shootings, pictures of beautiful countries torn apart by wars, and our most recent election, it came time to add an amendment to that classic golden rule, because empathy alone is not all we will need to make it through this challenging, and sometimes painful, world. We must treat others how we would like to be treated, and also treat ourselves as we would treat others. These two things must happen simultaneously, so that each of us begins a cycle of compassion and self-compassion that sustains our work, and allows us to contribute to the world with our whole, authentic selves.”

Editor’s Note: A previous article included a bio of Noah Nieting, who was not one of the finalists selected. Leyla Suleiman is the finalist who should have been listed in Nieting’s place. The online version of the article has been updated to show her speech.

April 28, 2017

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