Senate President: Milan Udawatta ’17
Class of 2017! Congratulations, we made it! Thank you to our parents, family, and friends. We would not be walking across this stage today without your love and support. To our faculty, staff, and administrators, thank you for teaching us to be better advocates and people.
I’m honored to be speaking here today. But I have to be honest, I didn’t know what to say in this speech. I mean I could talk about myself, how I got here, how Columbia changed me. But nobody came to this graduation to hear about me. Not even my family, believe it or not. Even they’re sick of hearing me talk about myself. It gets tiring after 25 years, I don’t blame them.
So then I thought, maybe I could give advice. But then I said, what if I lead these people astray? After all, I don’t even follow my own advice, and that actually has steered me pretty well.
So rather than do any of that or leave you with some lofty message you’ve heard before, I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk about you, the Class of 2017. You have all amazed, challenged, and inspired me and, while it’s impossible to talk about all of you in a three-minute speech, I wanted to take this time to highlight a few of the many amazing things you have done.
So here we go!
Ella Stephens, you have been a relentless champion for First Generation Professionals and countless students have found the resources they need to succeed because of your work.
Zahed Haseeb and Zainab Qureshi, at a time when religious difference has bred division and intolerance, you brought us together through the faith and practice panels. Your work has made Columbia a more welcoming community for people of all religions and creeds.
Rebecca Urquiola and Hannah Weichbrodt, you inspired us all by winning asylum for a refugee as law students.
Oriane Hakkila, by winning Food Network’s Cooks vs. Cons, you proved CLS students can walk and talk at the same time.
Rasheed Ahmed, you showed your courage had no bounds, when you asked for a shout-out in this speech.
Dean Yadira Ramos-Herbert, you accomplished perhaps the most ardent challenge. You somehow survived the impossible odds of Dean or No Dean. We’re better as a community and as a law school because of you. You may not be a student, but you are one of us.
The list, of course, goes on and on. One of the greatest benefits of this place—and one of the reasons we all came here—was to be surrounded by so much success, dedication, and passion. But the greatest privilege has been to count on all of you as friends. Our accomplishments have been contingent on having each other’s support. The greatest strength in our class lies in our friendship—and it has since the very beginning.
I mean for me, the best part of 1L was looking to my left and right in Legal Methods and seeing the promise of friendship. The best part of 2L was recognizing I didn’t have to do it all alone—that I could look to others for support and in the process, gain a friend. The best part of 3L was looking across the table while cramming a semester of learning into one night and realizing all my friends were right there with me, doing the same. And that is the beauty of this place. Whether a transfer, LL.M., Harcourt/Bobbit/Strauss/Ginsburg, or even a Ruth Bader Ginsburg, we will all walk out as better people because of the friendships we made here.
Thank you and congratulations again to the Class of 2017!