The following is the text of a speech I submitted to be considered for the DePaul University graduating class of 2015 student commencement speech. I was not chosen to deliver it but wanted to share it here:
Good morning everyone! My name is Shaza, but I also go by Shazam, so I want to extend that to everyone here as well.
We’re going to start out this speech by getting out of our comfort zone a little bit. First, I would like everyone to stand up and find someone near you who you do not know. Shake their hand (respecting any difference in culture) and introduce yourself the same way I just did.
Now, and please be honest, raise your hand if you didn’t bother to do it.
(React accordingly – hopefully very few raise their hands!)
DePaul was and is not a space for people who want to stay inside their comfort zone. Day in and day out I and those around me pushed ourselves to meet new people, learn new ideas, explore new places, and try new experiences.
What I learned was that positive change is never created by those who stay within their comfort zone. Discomfort and action are necessary for creating change in our world. Those who were content to simply take classes and slide by never created change, because progress doesn’t occur through passivity. And here at DePaul, I only saw students who understood this and who pushed themselves to the absolute limits.
For each of the following efforts, I ask that the graduates stand if they were involved in at least one and stay standing until the end.
Students who pushed for undocumented students’ rights, who danced 24 hours for sick children, who stood against rape culture and sexual violence, who successfully lobbied for MAP and worked for college affordability, who demanded conscientious investments, who visited incarcerated youth, who launched a social enterprise, who tutored students, helped the homeless, spent early weekend mornings giving back to their community, participated in Vincentian Service Day, and all of the sororities and fraternities, who defied the negative stereotypes and dedicated themselves to their charities, ranging from the Children’s Miracle Network to the Epilepsy Foundation.
Now please look around. This, this, is DePaul. Where students tirelessly push themselves to follow their passions and make the world a better place for all.
Thank you graduates, you may now take a seat.
And it is not easy (right, graduates?). It takes waking up early, hosting late night meetings, missing meals, and squeezing hours out of the day to make the most of it.
Yet great leaders of the past, such as Martin Luther King Jr, Abraham Lincoln, Jane Addams, and St. Vincent DePaul himself had these same qualities: the energy and the willingness to put themselves out there and to fight, no matter the sacrifices. To leave their comfort zone and to risk it all, for a better world.
That is the legacy DePaul has given us, and the legacy this Class of 2015 will carry on. Wherever we go next, we will never be content or passive, but will continue to leave our warm, comfortable beds at 6am to do what we do best…
So after this ceremony, try introducing yourselves again and listen carefully. Because we are the next leaders of the world, and you’re going to want to know us.