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June 27, 2020

Valedictory Address: Hailah Khatari, Urban Assembly Institute of Math and Science for Young Women, Brooklyn

Good morning fellow graduates, teachers, staff and parents. My name is Hailah Khatari. I am honored to be standing, well technically sitting, in front of all of you to share my journey that got me to where I am today, but I will like to start off by congratulating all of us on accomplishing a major milestone in our lives despite the pandemic that prevented us from being in an actual gathering today.

When I first stepped into this school, I was this 11-year-old introverted little girl, who felt lost and didn’t know where I belonged. Even before UAI, it was difficult for me to make friends because I was always too shy to open up to anyone and I moved around a lot when I was younger, which made it a little more challenging. This caused me to remain in my own shell for years. However, spending seven years of life in UAI changed all of that. UAI allowed me to have access to stability, which helped me break out of my shell and granted me time to grow. In the duration of that time, I learned to advocate for myself, to excel in anything I put my mind to, and I even found the best friend group I can ever ask for.

Throughout those years in UAI, I began to receive such high expectations that I found unfair. I was always expected to have the highest grades, the best behavior and the perfect reputation. Even though these expectations were overwhelming and had me pulling my hair out, I did learn that they were given to me for a reason and they showed me that the people who gave them to me only wanted the best for me. This helped me realize that I am capable of accomplishing more than that 11-year-old girl thought when she was entering middle school. Now, I am this mature young woman, who is the first in her family to go to one of the most prestigious colleges in NYC, Barnard College. So, I am extremely thankful for all those high expectations that were given me.

On that note, I would like to quote one of the most renowned poets, Langston Hughes, who said, “I have discovered in life that there are ways of getting almost anywhere you want to go, if you really want to go.” This stood out to me because it emphasizes that the most important expectation to exceed is our own. If we really put our mind to something and work extremely hard, then anything is possible. The expectations we give ourselves help push us to thrive and achieve more than we might think is possible. I mean, that’s what I did to get where I am now and I plan on doing until I reach the life I want for myself.

To add on, I believe this embodies the Class of 2020 because we all have exceeded everyone’s expectations, especially the ones that thought we were going to graduate in hazard suits or graduate on Google Docs. I know that this isn’t an ideal graduation ceremony, but we’re still graduating and we will start the next chapter of our lives.

Class of 2020, our graduation will be historic and we’ll go down in history as probably the only class to get recognition from celebrities. Therefore, we shouldn’t be upset that we didn’t get the graduation we wanted because now we’ll technically be famous. All jokes aside, this moment right here also proves that we overcame the hardest challenge any class will ever face: graduating during a pandemic. Even though the best year of our high school career was cut short, we still pushed through all of those Zoom classes, those daily assignments on Google Classroom, and those messed up sleeping schedules. We managed to do all of this and so much more during the COVID-19 crisis and the Black Lives Matter protests. So, we all should be extremely proud of ourselves and our accomplishments.

Before I end my speech, I would like to take some time to show appreciation to my family, friends and teachers. To start off, thank you to my parents, aunts and cousins for always supporting me in every decision I ever made and for pushing me to continue thriving even when I wanted to give up. Without them, I don’t think I would be where I am today. Also, thank you to my friends for always bringing joy and excitement to every class we had for the past four years and for creating insane memories with me that I will cherish for years. Words can never express how grateful I am for all of you.

Lastly, thank you to all my teachers for always challenging me to grow academically and help prepare me for the next step in my life. I have learned a lot from every single one of you and I am very thankful. Unfortunately, we all have to say goodbye to each other, but just remember no matter where life takes you next, you can go anywhere you want as long as you exceed every goal you set for yourself.

Thank you all for listening and once again congratulations to the unforgettable and historic Class of 2020!



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