Tahreem Kahlied ’16 delivered the following Senior Class Welcome during the 184th Commencement Ceremony May 22:
Five years ago, when I was still living in Karachi, Pakistan, and studying for an accounting certification, I logged on to my Facebook and realized that my wall was flooded with graduation pictures. I wrote the following status in a fit of passive-aggressive jealousy (and I quote): “I just realized that I will never have a regular graduation with a convocation where I get to wear a gown and that flat hat thingy.”
I wasn’t just jealous…I was extremely sad. I believed wholeheartedly that I would spend my life auditing companies, and that was just depressing.
When I came to the U.S. four and a half years ago I did not know what to expect…and needless to say the first few months here were a cultural shock, completely nerve-wracking. Born and raised in Karachi, it was extremely difficult for me to adjust to the Wesleyan environment. I was scared on so many levels: scared about my future; scared about being the odd one out, the adult, foreign student in a sea of smart, articulate young people; scared about not being American enough to understand what it meant to be a Wesleyan student. Coming to Wesleyan was the first decision I had taken for myself, and it scared me that this one independent decision might turn out to be a big failure.
Then, during my first semester, I befriended a young Jewish man. I confided to him my fears of being at Wesleyan, about how I was afraid I was going to mess up the one decision I had taken for myself. He listened, tried to comfort me, and then took me sledding on Foss hill. He later sent me a video of me zooming down the hill, titled “You. Sledding. Your Decision.” I was so proud of myself. A few weeks after this, a classmate asked me to lunch. I had seen him before and had wondered at the non-conformative clothes he wore. I won’t lie, I was somewhat disconcerted at his invitation, especially when he nonchalantly told me that he identified as queer. We spent the next three hours just talking. There is a first time to everything: I had not only sledded for the first time, I had made my first queer, and Jewish friends. For a Pakistani Muslim woman, that is indeed a big deal because my relationships with each forced me to reconsider some serious cultural biases I had grown up with.
As a student studying race and ethnicity as part of her American Studies major, I was introduced to the possibility that there can be more truths than the one I believe in. The more classes I took, the more I realized how much I didn’t know. My professors will vouch for the fact that I got so immersed in the experience of learning about the socio-political aspects of American life that I was taking at least three American Studies classes every single semester, and literally soaking up information. I learned about colonialism, indigenous politics, queer politics, anarchy, racial and ethnic politics, latinidad, South-Asian diasporic writing, all as part of this one, very inclusive major. I was learning that diversity, whether in thought, or in person, is indeed beautiful.
My education here has been twofold: that which I acquired in the classroom, and that which I experienced amongst you: I have witnessed students fight for equality, stand up for social justice, and speak against racism and xenophobia. I have witnessed strength, perseverance, and solidarity, and I have grown to admire and respect you all immensely for it.
Professor (Joel) Pfister, the American Studies chair, emailed me a couple of weeks ago with a lot of (academic) good news, and then told me that I had taken Wesleyan by storm. I beg to differ, Professor Pfister…Wesleyan has taken me by storm.
Thank you and congratulations to the class of 2016.