Commencement Speech 2022

Sunday, May 22, 2022
by Aena Khan, Senior Class Council President

Welcome, dear friends and family, professors and administrators, and members of the class of 2022 to the 158th Commencement at Vassar College. As we all turned in our final papers, projects, and theses, a sentiment that I heard resound across campus was how quickly the end of our undergraduate careers came. I remember first being told that college goes by in the blink of an eye after graduating from high school, and in many ways this saying has held true. However, for our graduating class, it also feels like we’ve experienced several lifetimes within the span of four years. We’ve transitioned into adulthood and navigated, forming meaningful interpersonal relationships, intellectual experiences, and professional development, while also facing an unprecedented global pandemic and widespread reckonings on racial justice in the United States, as well as various global conflicts. To be sure, the process it took to reach the finish line looked different for each person sitting here today, but we should all take this moment to commend ourselves for making it to this momentous occasion. 

When I was younger, I struggled to understand what it meant to be a good student and how that ideal translated to the world outside academia. As the first semester of college began, I remembered lines from a book called Siddhartha that I had read during a high school English class and which provided me with some guidance: “When someone is searching … then it might easily happen that the only thing his eyes still see is that what he searches for … But finding means being free, being open, having no goal.” I was someone who continuously searched, even if that meant pursuing a singular path that my mind told me was the only path forward. The thought of “Finding,” of being free and open, originally terrified me, and yet I ironically found myself at a place where such openness was emphasized as the primary way of enlightening oneself and gaining new knowledge.

Now, if I had to walk away with one primary lesson from my four years here, I would say, with gratification, that I have learned to appreciate the process of finding and all the twists and turns that one’s journey may take. I have had professors and made friends who challenged my single-mindedness, who pushed me to become a better version of myself, both academically and personally, and who taught me the virtue of patience, an underrated quality that I know I could personally be more mindful of. These are all experiences and crucial character developments that I am confident my peers have shared as we leave the classrooms and common rooms that we’ve grown accustomed to and depart for new and exciting adventures across Brooklyn, the country, and globe.

In addition to the difficulties and rigors of college that exist under normal circumstances, we did so while COVID-19 completely upended our education and states of well-being. During this time, I witnessed countless peers mobilize support for members of our community in need and transform those practices into large-scale networks that revealed to me how the theories we study in the classroom, how discussions of passion and intellect that demanded a better world, translate into real world practice. When we were at our most emotionally vulnerable and intellectually drained moments, I watched my peers show up for one another, and gained an unprecedented insight into how Zoom blurred the lines between home and work for us all. Though we will not know the full extent of the damage that COVID-19 wrought for decades to come, we pushed through and approached the light at the end of the tunnel, while life continues to assume a new normal. Again, I want to emphasize how proud we should be of ourselves, particularly as many paths present themselves to our future selves.

Another saying I often heard during the past four years was, “You can only do college once.” When we all look back on our four years here, it should be with the knowledge that we have evolved in ways our past selves could not have fathomed. Likewise, I hope that we continue to challenge ourselves and understand how our ability to think shapes the understandings we hold. Finally, I ask that we continue to carry a sense of community and faith in the peers and professors who changed our lives here in the years to come. Thank you, and congratulations to the class of 2022.