Yahya Aliyu Selected as 2024 Student Speaker for Commencement on the National Mall

The graduating master’s student said he is honored by the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leave a lasting, galvanizing message for his peers.

May 1, 2024

Yahya Aliyu

GW engineering master's candidate Yahya Aliyu is humbled by the "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to address and inspire his peers at Commencement on the National Mall. (William Atkins/GW Today)

George Washington University master’s candidate Yahya Aliyu, B.S. ’23, was 7 years old when his father, GW alumnus Zakari Aliyu, M.P.H. ’99, moved the family from the Washington, D.C., area to rural Nigeria so he could provide qualitative health care to communities in grave need. Eventually, Zakari was invited to build up a new public hospital in the region, becoming its CEO and medical director. 

The family returned to Maryland prior to Yahya entering high school, and while his father gave Aliyu complete freedom in choosing his college, he also wanted his alma mater of GW to be under consideration.

It’s come full circle, even after time spent living across the world.

The younger Aliyu will not only join his father as a GW master’s alumnus, but he will also be the student speaker at Commencement on the National Mall on Sunday, May 19.

“[My dad] didn’t care where I applied, but GW being on the list was non-negotiable,” Aliyu said. “In hindsight, it seems like he was a clairvoyant.”

Aliyu was selected to give the Commencement speech after a three-round process in front of both peers and university officials, stating what his motivations were to be speaker. Aliyu, who has been heavily involved in numerous ventures at GW while also being an exemplary student, saw this as a unique moment in time to address his peers who are equally passionate about creating change and realizing a more just world.

“It's just such an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address your peers who are so accomplished, dedicated and motivated, and you have the opportunity to leave a lasting message that you hope will galvanize them,” Aliyu said.

“I also wanted to have an opportunity to remind us of the complexity of the interconnected and global world we live in today and that if we want to forge a better tomorrow, we need to embrace that complexity, be open minded and adopt intersectional approaches to problem solving.”

Aliyu has a lifetime of experiences to stand on those fronts. In his past, he has overseen technical operations for a medical practice/consultancy and interned at the White House under the Office of the Chief Statistician of the United States. Concurrent with his work in Deloitte Consulting’s health practice, he manages financial operations for his family’s nonprofit, the Aliyu Memorial Foundation, based in Nigeria. He also serves, through the Honey W. Nashman Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service, as a GW Upstart Commissioner, reviewing and recommending grants for the allocation of up to $75,000 in funding for student-led social innovation service projects.

While at GW, he co-founded a nonprofit dedicated to promoting grassroots entrepreneurship among students, coached the men’s club soccer team (with its players giving him the nickname Pep Guardiola in honor of Manchester City’s field boss), achieved success at venture competitions such as Pitch George and the George Hacks Medical Solutions Hackathon and attended the Summer Venture in Management Program at Harvard Business School.

He believes the coursework and experiences at GW have set him up well to tackle his career intentions of improving access to qualitative and humane care, optimizing healthcare delivery and tackling global health challenges.

“I've taken courses ranging from differential equations to political philosophy; I’ve been exposed to so many different modes of thinking, perceiving and operating in the world,” he said. “Taking this litany of diverse courses has really inspired me to pursue a career where I would be able to foster those collaborative approaches.”

But first, he’ll sign off one final time at GW by sharing those experiences and perspectives to the GW community that will welcome a new alumni class on May 19.