Kwame Alston

Credit: Will Kirk / Johns Hopkins University

Commencement 2018

'How will we give back?'

Full video and text of remarks by senior class president Kwame Alston

Remarks as delivered by Johns Hopkins University senior class president Kwame Alston at the universitywide commencement ceremony on May 24, 2018.

Good afternoon everyone. Good afternoon to friends, families, faculty, and trustees. Thank you so much for joining the Class of 2018, as we celebrate our graduation. I also would like to recognize our loved ones who supported us but could not be here to see us graduate. And let us take a moment to remember our classmate, Jeremy Huber, who passed way too soon.

When I first arrived at Johns Hopkins University, I did not think it was a place for me. Like many of my low-income and first-generation peers, I struggled academically and socially. Honestly, after my first semester I was ready to pack my bags and go.

Thankfully, I made remarkable friends here, and it was their support that gave me the determination to stay and do well. Classmates became friends who helped me when I was at my lowest and did everything to lift my spirits as I agonized about my grades. Upperclassmen students became mentors, spending hours in the library with me as I studied. It was my friends who encouraged me to take student leadership positions and believed in my ability to make a difference on this campus.

I know I would not be here making this speech today without the encouragement of my family, friends, and fraternity brothers. So thank you, mom.

I am honored to represent my class at commencement. While each of our experiences these past four years have been different, we have all faced our own challenges. I'll be frank with you all—this is not an easy school in any sense of the word. Hopkins forced us to grow, academically and intellectually, at a rapid pace that at times felt impossible to keep up with. It has taken a love for education, perseverance, and most importantly, the support of a community, to make it to this special moment.

We are all grateful for the people who have helped us do our best here. Our parents and guardians have invested time, emotional support, and money to make sure we succeeded. Faculty have spent countless hours introducing us to new ideas and experiences, critiquing our work, and challenging us to grow. Even the neighborhoods around us have shifted to accommodate our needs.

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As I have been counting down the days to graduation, I have grown more and more excited. But at the same time, my anxiety has increased. It is not that I am afraid of the unknown, because Hopkins has prepared me and my classmates to take on any and all challenges.

My anxiety stems from not knowing how I am going to repay the generosity of the people who have given so much to me.

There is no question that we are ready to move forward with our lives. The only question is: how will we give back to the people who have given so much to make us into the people we are today?

We owe it to everyone in this room, university, and city to make the most of the privilege we have as Hopkins graduates, and to use what we have learned and accomplished here to make the world a better place.

Thank you and congratulations to the Class of 2018.