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Senior Noreen Kassam Named 2012 Student Commencement Speaker
April 23, 2012
Twelve finalists delivered speeches in this year’s competition.
Senior Noreen Kassam’s speech about the “only at GW” opportunities she experienced as a student earned her the chance to speak alongside NBC’s Brian Williams as the winner of George Washington’s student Commencement speaker competition, held Friday in GW’s Marvin Center.
President Steven Knapp announced the winner at the end of the competition, calling the student speaker “one of the high points” of each Commencement.
“I hope this has been an exciting and interesting experience for you,” he told the finalists. “Commencement here is a big deal and it’s an extraordinary stage, I think, to be a witness to, and it’s one of the privileges we have as the largest university in the nation’s capital.”
Ms. Kassam will deliver her speech May 20 in front of an estimated 25,000 on the National Mall. She said she was speechless when Dr. Knapp read her name.
“I didn’t expect it,” she said. “I know so many of the people in the room, and I know they are all phenomenal people and are GW to the max, so to be selected amongst those people was an honor. It is humbling, and I’m very, very excited for Commencement.”
Ms. Kassam, who is majoring in international affairs and political science in the Elliott School of International Affairs, said she applied to say “thank you” to the university for all of her experiences, which included internships at the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of State and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“I had the opportunity to do so many things here, to see things and to experience things that I never would have had without this school,” she said. “I’m about to begin a career in public service, and it is because I’ve been inspired by my time here.”
Ms. Kassam competed against 11 other finalists from five schools, including the Elliott School, the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Business, the College of Professional Studies and the School of Engineering and Applied Science.
The finalists delivered their speeches in front of a judging committee made up of GW faculty, staff and students, including Vice President for External Relations Lorraine Voles; John Sides, associate professor of political science; and 2012 Senior Class Gift Coordinator Victoria Hartman. Finalist Yadira Holmes, a distance-learning student in the Graduate School of Political Management, competed via Skype from Florida.
Speakers were judged on several criteria, including speech delivery, personal appeal and exhibition of GW spirit.
Participating on the judging committee for the first time this year, Ms. Voles called it an “unbelievable experience.”
“These students were all so impressive, and it makes you so proud to be a part of the university,” she said. “It was an uplifting kind of event.”
“Noreen is going to be wonderful,” added Ms. Voles. “She has a really important message for students, faculty and staff, and I think she’s going to be terrific.”
The competition process began in March, when approximately 40 students submitted an application that included a biography, a copy of their speech and a video entry. This year’s competition was open to all graduating students.