Editor’s note: In an issue focusing on children, I am proud to share the words of this young woman’s commencement address, which was delivered at Hillsborough Community College’s (HCC) graduation ceremony this spring. The insight and wisdom or our youth will define our future directions in thought, governance, and global relations. Thank you, Sonia, for sharing your light.
I want to take a few minutes of everyone’s time to talk about the importance of education and its power to guide us towards freedom.
Freedom is the one goal we have all been trying to achieve, via different paths—some of which are to be praised, while the majority of which lead us into a state of delusion.
I come from a country that has been continuously devastated by war. The people of Afghanistan have been fighting for their freedom against foreign invasions for centuries. My family lived through the Russian Invasion, the civil wars, and the Taliban invasion in the 1990s. These long years of relentless violence have left an impression on the minds of many people in Afghanistan that the only way to achieve freedom is through war.
In fact, following the daily news shows us that such an ideology, the ideology of violence and offense, is shared by many throughout the world. But today, I want to share with you my view of the true way of achieving freedom.
Through my studies of history, I learned that each civilization since the dawn of humanity has sought freedom as one of the ultimate meanings of being a human. Upholding this tradition of humanity, I began my quest of seeking my right to acquire freedom. It took me some time to understand the vast range of possible meanings for the word “freedom.” Today, I find myself focusing on Albert Camus’ definition of “Individual Freedom.” Camus believed that “Freedom is nothing else but a chance to be better.” Following the footsteps of Camus’ understanding of freedom, I struggled to free myself of all the constraints, impediments, and burdens that would limit my development as a human being.
Such a conception of freedom helped me realize the innumerable effects of education that make it a powerful driver for the development of individuals. Formal education has had a formative effect on my mind, character, and abilities. Each class I took was a liberating force.
My ethics class helped free my character of moral and ethical inconsistencies; whereas my sociology class helped me understand societal issues. My chemistry class raised my appreciation for the importance of polarity, diversity, and bonding; whereas my calculus class introduced me to a world of infinite possibilities.
However, not everyone in today’s world is lucky enough to have access to such phenomenal opportunities. I, myself, didn’t have these opportunities back in Afghanistan. Let me tell you this, there are millions of people just like you and me out there in this world who are thirsty for knowledge and hungry for an education that is, because of their circumstances, beyond their reach.
This is because we live in a world where the greed for wealth and power has lead to the presence of a group of people whose insatiable materialistic hunger has resulted in depriving the majority of people of their freedom, including the most basic human right of a decent education.
Sadly, some of these megalomaniacs are world leaders. Husni Mubarak is a perfect example of such a leader who ruled Egypt for 30 years without opposition. In order for these leaders to stay in power without opposition, they have had to convince us that the only way we can remain free is if we annihilate and suppress others. This is simply not true.
As insignificant as my opinion can be, I am sharing with you my understanding of true freedom; an understanding that I obtained through my education at HCC; an understanding that freedom can only be gained through education. HCC offered me the opportunity to be more free than I ever thought I could be and made my education relevant to an ever globalizing world. Through my education at HCC,
I realized that education, not war, is the real way we can obtain true freedom.
Abraham Lincoln said “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.” The only time any of us will feel truly free is when we do everything in our power to educate. Through education we can free the world. My dear fellow students, the only chance for our world to be free and for its inhabitants to be in harmony is to put down the guns and condemn violence and to pick up the pens and fight ignorance and intolerance.
Finally, if I am to search for a dream that shall always tie me to this amazing day, it would be one where the sun of education and knowledge shines through every dark alley in this world and into the lives of our fellow humans. Again congratulation graduates. I honor you all and I wish you all good luck, not that any of you would need it.
By Sonia Muslima Razaqyar