Valedictory: Sherwan Hindreen

AUIS Sixth Annual Commencement
Undergraduate Valedictory
Sherwan Hindreen
May 24, 2017

Ladies and gentlemen, our distinguished guests, parents, and my fellow graduates. Thank you all for coming on this important day. It is an honor to be standing here and addressing you all. It is a privilege to be able to speak on behalf of all of my classmates who are graduating with me today. Before we begin, I must confess. I was sincerely shocked when I was first invited to give you this speech. My surprise was so profound, that, to my embarrassment, I forgot to give an answer to the invitation. I have even considered excusing myself from this formidable task. High grades I can do. That is fine and easy, public speaking not so much. Fortunately, with much encouragement from some of the wonderful people here at AUIS, I rose to the challenge.

Now, I will not waste your time with an overly long and verbose speech. I’m one of you. I understand your feelings today. I understand the feelings of relief and joy that our journey is over. I also understand the stress and worry about an uncertain future waiting ahead of us. You should know that I don’t necessarily have words of wisdom to impart on you. What I have is a helpful suggestion more than anything. It is a way of looking at things that have helped me over the years. What I’m about to say may seem pessimistic and unhelpful for some of you. In spite of this, please know that my only goal is to be of help to you all.

Ten years have passed since this university first opened its doors. Ten years full of failures and successes, loses and promises, and tears and smiles. Since then, Kurdish and Iraqi fortunes have changed tremendously. The optimism that was widespread when we first came here has largely evaporated into thin air. We are blighted with doubt, pessimism and unease whenever we think of our future. It is a critical and momentous time we are living in today. The war with ISIS is coming to its end. As our soldiers are liberating and reclaiming the last stolen Iraqi fortress from these extremist savages, the future is murkier than ever. With so many economic hardships and political crises washing over us one after another, it is understandable that what should have been a joyful celebration for all, is seen by some as a grave transition into an unknown future.

It is reasonable of course that we may feel like this. We are no strangers to discomfort and anxiety. The wars of this land are always on our minds, simmering in the background of our lives. We always lived in their shadow. They have haunted us for a long time. All of us here were either born during the sanction years, like myself, or the senseless war with Iran, or the invasion of Kuwait and the following destruction Iraq suffered due to the actions of one tyrannical cruel man. Of course, most of us lived our adolescent years with the chaos and destruction that followed the 2003 invasion in the background. In Kurdistan, we were optimistic. The post-invasion economic boom allowed us to delude ourselves into thinking we were apart from the rest of the country. We believed we were immune to its aliments. For better or worse, we have now awoken from that illusion.

When I first came to AUIS I didn’t know what to expect. I had just finished my secondary education in Baghdad, and all I thought about was leaving that torn city. Life had become unbearable; the bombings, suicide attacks, and kidnappings were incessant. Like most Baghdadis, my family refused to be intimidated and we tried to maintain a cheerful life as best we could. Eventually, we left to Kurdistan. It was our homeland after all and few other places accepted Iraqis and allowed them to retain their dignity. I’m glad to say that whatever misgivings I had vanished as I spent more time here at AUIS, and developed deep friendships with good people here.

My father is from this city. My mother is a Baghdad native. Both are Kurds. One is a Sunni, the other Shi’i. Moreover, my native language is Arabic. Thus, I like to think that I have in me all the main ingredients of the Iraqi soup. I was born in 1994. The year that saw the apex of the misery all Iraqis suffered from at the height of the international sanctions. Poverty spared no one. Food and medical care became a privilege. But we survived! We have seen and suffered terribly and still survived. We also built. We fought and refused to accept an unjust destiny. We made our own happiness. I remember vividly my mother making homemade cake out of dates, because sugar was scarce and too expensive, and from cheap flour made of bran usually fed to livestock. What my mother did was something most Iraqi and Kurds excel at. I mean facing poverty and misery with head held high and a belief that family can overcome anything as long as they remain together. No matter what, no matter how much death surrounds us, life will always emerge victorious.

 
As to what I would like to say to my fellow graduating classmates. My two-cent take on our current status, and you are welcome to disagree with it: We have become desensitized to the severity of our situation. We have grown apathetic to the prospect of change. The decades of constant battle and conflict in this country have normalized violence to such an extent that we don’t worry anymore. We no longer dwell on whatever conflict we are embroiled in, but we instead try to prepare for the next one. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not criticizing anyone here. I’m one of you, and I do the same too. I remember when I first heard the news of Mosul falling to the onslaught of ISIS. My first reaction wasn’t horror or apprehension. Instead, I made a joke. In the end, we are humans. There is only so much we can be forced to withstand before we shut down our emotions.

Some of you hearing me may conclude that I’m a pessimistic person. You are wrong. My hope is limitless, for I’ve seen the worst the world has to offer and I have seen it fail to extinguish the joy of life in us. In spite of all this seemingly endless strife, the spirit of the people of this land remained always strong. I believe in our ability to change the future. I know you dear classmates, and I know that you have the knowledge and power to reverse the misfortunes of our country. I know that inside of all of us is a fire that is burning. We are alight with hopes and with a passion to improve our lives and this broken nation. Today, we are leaving AUIS, and making a new beginning, a new breakthrough into life. Here, the education we have received has given us the tools needed to truly make a difference. We are here to leave a mark on the future of this nation. The road is long, and the land is harsh, but we must soldier on and stay united. We have two options: We can either face up to the challenge of taking control of our future, or we can follow in the footsteps of our forefathers and cruelly pass the responsibility to the next generation. I never shy away from a challenge, nor do you. For me the choice is clear. I hope it is the same for you too.

Thank you all and congratulations!