And now I give you the vibrant, the inspiring Sanila Math, our student speaker.
I should have worn taller heels, but it’s okay. A big welcome to all of us gathered here today, including Dean Kathryn Stockton, faculty, alumni and class of 2022 with special thanks to parents, friends and loved ones who made this journey possible.
My name is Sanila Math, and I feel honored to be at the 2022 Convocation student speaker. Before I begin, I’d like to start by recognizing the history of the land that we are meeting on today.
Thank you to Dean Stockton for providing a land acknowledgment. Thank you. I also want to thank my support systems, including my mom, Ella, and my dad, Sanjay, and my brothers, Myron, who decided his AP exam today was more important than me. But I will forgive him for that. They’re in the back, over there, standing up.
In addition, thank you to all my mentors who have helped guide me in my academic journey and to my friends and peers gathered here today who have given me unconditional love and encouragement. And I haven’t forgotten those joining us via livestream. Today is about all of us; about all of you, just as it is about us.
Originally, I wanted to center my speech around parting advice my parents had given me before I started my first year at the U.
But my dad’s words to me were, “do what you want, just don’t get caught.” And I don’t think the Dean would be happy with me if I told you all to do that, too.
Instead, I’ll share a bit of my story and lessons I’ve learned during my time here at the U that will hopefully now serve as reminders.
Growing up in a South Asian household, my parents stressed the importance of how education aids in personal liberation, forging futures and creating successes. With no sense of direction other than knowing that I wanted to go into medicine, I ventured as an anthropology major throughout my first year of college. My decision to add an ethnic studies degree came later because I appreciated how the field centered, diverse experiences. But it wasn’t my grades or my GPA or my course load that defined my success.
In fact, there are a lot of things that I did not do. I did not graduate with a 4.0. I did not pick up a business minor like I said, I would (maybe for the better.) And I did not consistently balance my work and social life well, and the majority of the time college proved to be full of struggle.
However, I find merit in focusing on what I did do. I poured energy into my interpersonal relationships. I explored areas of campus that were not limited to my chosen field of medicine. I took my time in deciding what programs and initiatives I wanted to be a part of.
I—we—all learned a lot.
But I am here as I am. We are here as we are. Regardless of what you did or did not do during your time here. We are enough because of our dedication. We are enough because of the sacrifices we’ve made to become who we are.
You deserve a seat at the tables of the world, because up until now you have been building the foundation for the impact that you want to have on your communities.
This degree is just the beginning of our transformation into lifelong advocators, educators, and community builders.
And, as Transform has taught us, the world needs different types of people to help in different ways. Your work is valuable and your commitment to advocacy necessary and inspiring. When we dismantle harmful narratives within ourselves and our broader community. Much of our equity work expands far beyond our chosen fields.
For example, I am pursuing medicine, but my classes have taught me that there is no equitable medicine without environmental justice, housing and food security, warmth and shelter. Equity is the first step in liberation, and there can be no liberation without people who advocate, people who innovate, people who imagine and people who dream. The most valuable lessons come from learning and from our life experiences.
As Dr. Angela Robinson, professor in gender studies, says: we should seek to be “perpetual students of the world.”
Stay curious, for inquisitive people are catalysts of learning.
I also want to emphasize that as we figure out how to be a “adult,” it is okay to still be figuring out who you are outside of a college setting, how you fit into the broader workings of society, and to continue exploring your identity and how you can serve your community. While we are experiencing this transition into a larger community where your actions create ripples, you deserve to take your time and be patient with yourself.
I want to share another story that I feel has also served a life lesson. Last spring, the back of my car was hit by Trax. It was quite shocking at first, but I was completely fine.
However, I can’t say the same for my car. It was also unfortunate that the accident happened right by one of the residential housing units on campus. For weeks after, people would learn of my accident and say, “Oh, that’s what that loud noise was.” And in friendly banter, my friends would occasionally say, “hey Sanila, remember when you parked on the Trax rails?” or “hey Sanila, we have to celebrate your traxiversary,” which just happened about half a month ago. In case you were wondering, you all know who you are.
I’ve learned two things from this story. One, I now have a great “two truths and a lie” icebreaker to tell. And two, people will probably not always remember you for the things you actually want them to remember you for. So do what you want—find things that fulfill you outside of social advocacy and justice.
Yes, the world needs us to believe in the people that are often harmed by current systems and to fight for them. But it also needs us to take care of ourselves in order to be able to do that. Find ways to celebrate you.
I feel I speak for many of us when I say that when we accomplish things we have expected of ourselves, we feel not pride, not satisfaction, not glee, but relief. But we are all worth celebrating our small steps just as much as our big ones. Our accomplishments should not be minimized. You are relevant and you are valuable. Because we are standing here today, we should be proud of ourselves.
I realize that I grew up in a household of learning. I had the living room, which often transformed into a history classroom where my dad would share lessons on India’s past. I had the kitchen, where my mom taught me how to navigate interpersonal relationships and the importance of generosity during my present. And the dining room, where both will emphasize what learning could do for my future.
In between all of these spaces, my parents were encouraging me not to learn just for my future, but for the future of my community as well. I encourage you all to do the same.
Thank you and congratulations, class of 2022.