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Hodan Abdi, a Somali refugee who fled to Ethiopia with her family, spoke to students at commencement about her experience at the U and dream of becoming a doctor.

By Hodan Abdi, 2018 Commencement student speaker

Good evening, President Watkins, distinguished guests, dear faculty, graduates, family, and friends. I am very delighted to be here on this special occasion. Congratulations to us, the graduating class of 2018!

It has been a long journey for me to be with you here tonight. At the age of 13, I fled Somalia with my family to an Ethiopian refugee camp to escape a brutal, seemingly endless civil war. Due to the ongoing conflict in my country, I did not get the chance to go to school until I arrived at the refugee camp. When I arrived, I was placed in the sixth grade. It was intimidating for me at first, but I managed to thrive and finish middle school with top scores. My time in the refugee camp was one of the most challenging periods of my life, but I really liked going to school and learning new things every day.

PHOTO CREDIT: University of Utah

Commencement 2018 student speaker Hodan Abdi.

When I was in the 10th grade, we got an opportunity to move to the United States, although we left everything behind. Since I was already 18, I was told that I could not attend high school, and I had to start working. So, I began working as a custodian for the University of Utah to support my family. While working, I took the GED test and earned a high school diploma. I started college eager to take my first premed chemistry class, but first I had to take introductory reading and writing classes. I did so poorly on my first reading test that I was worried about whether I could handle college-level coursework. But, I made sure I attended office hours and got all the help I could. With the support of my mother, who struggled along with me and who always encouraged me to persevere, I was able to continue working toward my goal of becoming a doctor.

And with the help of Martha Archuleta, Holly Sebahar, Michael Morse and other amazing professors at the U, I was able to continue to work toward my dreams.

University of Utah has been my home for the last few years; it gave me friends who became family and professors who became mentors, and an education that I will carry with me in everything I do. This is where my dreams, and my family’s dreams, came true, and I will always be grateful for all the people who helped me, and the others whose actions have impacted me indirectly. Because of the support I got, I was able to get accepted to my top-choice medical school. This fall, I will begin medical school at the University of Minnesota.

Growing up in a homogenous country did not give me a lot of opportunities to interact with diverse people. At the University of Utah, I found diversity, and it can be challenging as well as rewarding. When I came to the United States, I wanted to assimilate into this new culture. I wanted to fit in and not stand out. Yet, I realized that total assimilation is not the goal of a diverse society, where melding cultures still retain their core attributes. In this process, I learned never to judge people and to always communicate and connect with others with an open mind. As a result, I met many friends from all over the world. Together, this story — my story — and the story each of you brought here today has been woven together as we have become a community over the last four years. Tomorrow, as each of us start a new chapter, I hope we remember what our time here has given us and what it requires from us.

Our time here was not only about getting a degree but about having the chance to think big and to find ways to make our world a better place by using the skills and the lessons we have learned while we were here. As students of the University of Utah, we are global citizens, and each one of us has the talents and the skills to make a big impact in our communities and for our planet. Class of 2018: Congratulations on all the hard work and incredible achievements that brought you here today! I wish you all the best in your future and look forward to hearing about your future explorations and accomplishments!