Scholar Achievements
Tasneem Ebrahim gives commencement address at The Hun School

CPISP Scholar Tasneem Ebrahim was selected to be the Senior Speaker at her graduation from The Hun School of Princeton, where she gave the Student Commencement Address on Friday, 10 June 2016 as part of the school’s 102nd Annual Commencement Exercises.

“Everyone's reaction was overwhelming; everyone: teachers, classmates, and even people I didn't know, came to me afterwards and told me how touched they were by my words. It meant a lot to me, and this was honestly the best way to end the rewarding journey I had at Hun,” says Tasneem.

Tasneem will be starting her Bachelor of Arts degree in Cell and Molecular Biology and/or Biochemistry at Barnard College of Columbia University in NYC this fall.

To view the video of her speech, please visit:

Also find below a written copy of her speech:

Coming to the U.S. was the hardest decision I have ever made in my life. The main concern wasn’t that I would live away from my family for the first time on the other side of the planet. The real concern was that I would live in an environment so different from mine, that it would pressure me to conform and change who I am. And the real question was: Is the education worth enduring this pressure?"

And although we decided to take a chance, my dad would always ask me during our long FaceTime talks: “Do you think we’ve made the right choice, Tasneem?” I would always tell him frankly: “I don’t know, dad. I don’t think I can know yet.”

Is the education worth the pressure? Today I say: this pressure IS the true education. Being here exposed me to an environment that couldn’t have been any more different from my background. It was scary in the beginning; blurry and foggy. Almost every belief I took for granted, and every idea I thought true was challenged. Everybody dressed differently, thought differently, acted differently. I had to constantly question myself simply by being surrounded by the exact opposite of what I think and do.

But it’s because of this constant questioning, this ongoing reaction with my surroundings, that I have grown so much over the past two years. I try to always remind myself of this simple fact, because It’s human nature; the tendency to stay where you are. It’s a physics law. And it’s a chemistry principle: even if the outcome of the reaction is favorable, it’s probably not going to happen on its own, because it needs a large amount of energy to initiate it. And so, we usually avoid the reaction so that we don’t have to put in that energy, going through a life of comfort and steadiness.

The question is: what life do we really want to live? When we have the opportunity to meet people who are the exact opposite of who we are, will we seize this opportunity to learn and grow? or will we lie back in our own social circles, choosing to merely brush the surface, to merely be “nice.” Too often we’re nice enough not to keep different people away, yet not enough to invite them in. I have learned during my time here that this kind of nice is not enough.

Diversity is not some fancy decoration in your house, something you’re told is precious, so you keep it, but never come too close to it because it’s too delicate. Diversity is your toolbox to build, expand, and even tear down some parts of your life to make it a better one.

Before I came here, I didn’t want the pressure to change who I am. Today, I am in awe of how much I have changed, yet I know I have never been more myself than I am today. This “who I am” has been polished and sharpened by the pressure of the constant reaction. But it wasn’t easy or enjoyable all the time. You see: sometimes when we realize that we’re very different from our surroundings, we’re frightened. We feel that we need to hide a little of who we are to blend in, to make strangers a little less irritated, maybe more comfortable. When “who I am” is usually perceived as suspicious and potentially dangerous, and when this religious identity flag that I wear on my head is perceived as a sign of oppression, I’m scared. I’m tempted to hide and blend in.

But I’ve come to believe that trying to make people comfortable around me by hiding who I am is depriving them and myself of a precious opportunity to learn and grow. And so I have learned to express my ideas unapologetically, to make myself known, to go upstream because I was offered a facilitated upstream. And this foundation has raised the bar so high for me, that I’m not going to accept anything less in my life. I will not settle for mere “tolerance” or “acceptance” of my differences. I will demand that my difference be treated as vital and essential to everyone around me. And I won’t accept any less of myself either: I will try to push my own boundaries of “acceptance” of others and climb that energy hill over and over again.

When I think of my years here at Hun, many pictures storm into my head, competing to appear first before my eyes. Some pictures are of tiny little details that made all the difference: the smile that greeted me in the hallway when I was having a really bad day, or the time my first roommate said in a casual conversation one evening: “Yeah, I think I got lucky with my roommate this year,” or my friend who didn’t believe my “I’m okay” and sat next to me quietly until I felt ready to tell her what was wrong. But some other pictures are huge: The time I found myself in AP Chem class with my teacher explaining the polarity of chemical bonds in a big pumpkin costume. The time I understood the importance of my teacher’s pushing me to work harder, not only because it paid off really well, but also because this hard work was what allowed me to discover new territories in myself and in the world around me. And the time a teacher listened to my worst fears and showed me a possible way out. I remember the long nights I spent with my friend (after lights out) talking about the universe, and the time I cheered for my house at the dodgeball tournament. The night I watched a theater production for the very first time, amazed at the fact that this magnificent production of Fiddler on the Roof was made by students, and the time I hung up my first light on stage.

I remember so many things, and the pictures overlap and separate, fly around my mind and pull on the strings of my heart. But what I remember most of all, is that I came to truly feel at home at Hun. Not metaphorically, not theoretically, not merely by the force of habit, but because at Hun, I was pressured, and I’ve changed, but I was always able to truly be who I am.
Now I know my answer, dad: I believe we’ve made the right choice.

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