LTTE: CSU should ensure minority voices are included at graduation

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(Graphic Illustration by Christine Moore-Bonbright | The Collegian)

Guest Author

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board. Letters to the Editor reflect the view of a member of the campus community and are submitted to the publication for approval.

On Thursday, April 21, I submitted my commencement speech to the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences’ council to be presented at the CVMBS spring 2022 graduation. I was the only ethnic student presenting a speech, and I was the only ethnic student in the room, presenting in front of a panel of all-white judges.

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Can CSU call itself inclusive and diverse if CSU does not directly support first-generation students, immigrants, ethnic students, girls’ education, women’s rights and other minorities in telling their stories? 

If the council does not model the diverse student body, then we cannot expect decisions that consider other cultural identities, backgrounds and experiences.

Below is the speech I planned for graduation.

Growing up, I saw that boys were given the opportunity to be educated over girls — over their own sisters. Growing up, I heard that a daughter is not your own — they become strangers once they get married. Maybe this is why boys were favored over girls — boys were more valuable to parents, families and society than girls. 

I was born to a mother who did not have access to education due to the lack of access to education in marginalized and low-income communities in Pakistan. Despite many struggles, she tried her best to send my sister and me to school. Due to many obstacles, I must confess I did not get to attend first, second, fourth or fifth grade. To create the possibility of achieving a higher education for my siblings and me, my parents moved to the United States. 

“With this degree, we get power: the power of education. How you use it is up to you. We graduate today, but our fight for a better world for all of us is not over. Make higher education a possibility for those that come after you just like the people that came before us.”

My great-grandmother never received any form of education. My grandmother never received any form of education. My mother never had the opportunity to earn a college degree. 1999 was the first time someone from our family received a college degree: my uncle.

Today, 23 years later, I am the first woman in my family ever to graduate with a college degree. As a first-generation student at CSU, life was hard sometimes, but I had access to great mentors I could ask for help at CSU. These mentors are my college professors, academic advisors, Key Communities mentors, Community for Excellence advisors, club leaders and kind, supportive classmates. 

I am not here solely because of my own hard work. I am here because of the support from my family, college professors, mentors, classmates and CSU.

I am here today for my ancestors and for the women in my family that never had this opportunity. I am here for my childhood girlfriends that became victims of the “girls don’t need education” mentality. I am here for all the girls and women who are denied the right to an education. I speak for myself and them when I say we, too, deserve an education.

Let today be a reminder of our privilege. Let today be the time we thank those that came before us to make college education a possibility for all of us. And for the graduates, be proud of pulling through mental breakdowns before an exam and working multiple jobs to put yourself through school and many other obstacles. Don’t undermine your achievements. Be proud of them.

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With this degree, we get power: the power of education. How you use it is up to you. We graduate today, but our fight for a better world for all of us is not over. Make higher education a possibility for those that come after you just like the people that came before us. As you navigate life, challenge your understanding of the world and your perspective of the world.

Sunbul Zeerak

Senior in microbiology, immunology and pathology at CSU

Editor’s Note: After The Collegian published this letter to the editor, leaders of the College of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences spoke with the author and included her as a speaker in the spring 2022 undergraduate commencement ceremony.

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