Text of student Convocation speech by Jasmin Kamruddin, ’19

Good afternoon, President Tessier- Lavigne, Provost Drell, Vice Provost Elam, Dean Shaw, faculty, trustees, and our most important guests, all of you, our new students and your families.

Three years ago, I sat where you all sit now, listening to these inspirational speeches, in awe of the beauty around me. The meticulously detailed Memorial Church that stood behind me, the gateway in front of me that previewed the Oval, and the sun that seemed to be shining at just the right angle. I sat here beyond excited to start this new journey, but I also worried about finding my place at Stanford. I was a low-income student with disabled parents and I worried where all of that would fit in to the Stanford experience.

My solution was to make a plan because I believed being a Stanford student meant looking forward and charging down a rigidly laid out path. And boy, 17-year-old me thought she had it all figured out. I was going to follow the premed track on the straight path to medical school. But after struggling in a course early on, I started to question my plan and even my place here at Stanford. Was belonging really about blindly following a path if I didn’t know why it was important to me?

That spring, I took my Thinking Matters course Reading the Body taught by Cari Costanzo and Dr. Abraham Verghese. This class was the setting of one of the best lectures I’ve heard at Stanford. It was given by Dr. Verghese, who spoke of his experiences treating AIDS patients at the start of the epidemic. As he delivered an emotional lecture and spoke of his connection to patients and deep commitment to a community, I thought about my own journey thus far. Dr. Verghese’s words helped me recognize that my true passion stood in health and social justice, and perhaps the path to pursuing them was not this plan to go straight to medical school.

So, over the course of the next few quarters, I decided to let my plan change. The questions I had considered after Dr. Verghese’s lecture – who I wanted to be at Stanford, what difference I wanted to make – forced me to shift my focus from only looking forward to taking a look back at my family and where I had come from. This made me realize that I wanted to explore the connections between race, medicine and policy. I declared political science and African and African American studies as my majors and found incredible professors willing to not only listen to my rants about social justice and healthcare, but also guide me to explore nontraditional approaches to health care and advocacy work. This led me to studying kidney cancer in Stanford’s medical school and taking knowledge pertinent to patient advocacy through my mentors there to public policy work in Alameda County’s Public Health Department. Through this time, I came to realize that belonging at Stanford didn’t mean having it all figured out. Belonging at Stanford meant finding what I was passionate about and figuring out how I could best contribute to these fields through my time here.

By the start of my junior year, I had grown in my sense of belonging through all the opportunities Stanford had to offer; I was being exposed to things I had never thought of and thinking in ways I never had – but life outside was happening too. I received devastating news that my dad had passed away. In that moment, it felt like coming to Stanford had meant leaving my parents and the life I had lived before Stanford behind entirely, and I again questioned my place here. But through that process of looking back at where I had come from and how far I had gone, I found a new meaning to belonging at Stanford. I hadn’t left my parents behind but had found my passions because of them and would be working for them. Reconciling the parts of my life that seemed to be polar opposites allowed me to experience Stanford in a new way. I tried new things, participated in Stanford in Oxford and Washington, D.C., took courses by experts in their fields, met policymakers and traveled to new places. As I continued to discuss social justice and health care through this journey, I was met with mentors who would develop my knowledge while pushing me to see things from different perspectives. Mentors who encouraged me to bring my own experiences to light. Through this I learned that finding my place at Stanford meant taking those moments of reflection to see those things I thought didn’t make me belong – the low-income student with disabled parents – had in fact led me to my passions.

So, to the Class of 2022, as you embark on the next stage of your life and move in to your new home, my wish for you is that you embrace this journey of finding your place at Stanford. That you recognize the things that make you nervous about fitting in here can lead you to your passions and the change you want to make in the world. And that you always remember you belong here – Stanford was made for each and every one of you. To the Class of 2022 – it is my great privilege to welcome you home.