Claremont, Calif. (May 24, 2023)—Global activist Nadia Murad has spoken before the United Nations Security Council and many other high-profile organizations and audiences about human trafficking and genocide. This May, she brought her powerful message to Claremont and addressed another important group.
“People often ask me what it takes to be an activist,” she said. “They ask, ‘What does it take to change the world?’ … My path to activism was through pain and trauma. That is not something that I wish for anyone.”
Her words were directed at the Class of 2023 during Pitzer’s 59th Commencement ceremony held earlier this month. For Murad, who gave the commencement address, the 250 graduating seniors possess the potential to change the world.
“Instead,” she continued, “I think there are two tools that you need as you work for justice and peace: community and determination.”
A capacity crowd of families, friends, faculty, and students gathered under the tents on the Glass Commencement Plaza to listen to Murad and applaud the achievements of this year’s graduating seniors.
The graduates distinguished themselves with multiple honors in academics (several are recipients of prestigious awards, including the Marshall, Watson, Fulbright, and Napier awards) as well as in athletics (Pitzer seniors belonged to outstanding recent Sagehen teams in swim and dive, water polo, football, and basketball).
Interim President Jill Klein P’15, who served as the ceremony’s emcee, framed the students’ achievements in the context of the College’s history.
“Class of 2023, six decades after the founding of our College, your accomplishments and character demonstrate the best of Pitzer,” she said. “We are all so very proud of you.”
Klein’s message of achievement was echoed by other speakers during the two-hour ceremony. These included Senior Class Speaker Nejat Ali ’23, who expressed appreciation to first-generation students, family, and the Pitzer community.
“We do not stop being a part of the community just because we are not physically here,” said Ali. “Value the communities you come from.”
Ali was followed by Senior Class President Annemarie Gerlach ’23, who announced that funds raised for the senior class gift would go to the First Gen student fund, and Alumni Board President Diana Bob ’02, who encouraged the graduates to actively participate in the College’s alumni network: “Please remember there are so many Pitzer people out there; make an effort to reach out to us.”
One of the more poignant moments took place during the remarks given by Murad, who received a standing ovation.
A global human rights advocate captured by ISIS and forced into sexual slavery until she could escape to the West, Murad invited the graduating seniors to continue the activism that they’ve learned at Pitzer and to take action and engage with a world that needs them.
“I would encourage you to think of community beyond where you grew up and went to school. Think like refugees: people who lose their homes and are thrown to the four corners of the earth,” said Murad, whose village in northern Iraq was destroyed by ISIS.
Refugees, she continued, “have much to teach us. Reach your hands out, beyond the borders of race and religion. Build your communities and invite others in. Show them there is strength in numbers…”
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