Speaking to thousands of fellow graduates at the Convocation Center, Amal Afyouni took classmates back to four years ago on their first day at Ohio University.
The political science and sociology graduate, offering this year’s student commencement address on Saturday afternoon, flashed back to the first day of nervousness and classroom icebreakers such as “two truths and a lie.”
“Two truths and a lie: I share the same birthday with my brothers, but we’re not triplets — let that one sink in. It takes me 26 hours to get from Athens to home. And I’m definitely not sad about this whole graduation thing,” Afyouni said. “I’m sure you can guess which one is a lie.”
Afyouni, who is from Dubai, recalled the many other Bobcats she has met on various travels from Athens to home. As Afyouni said, all it takes is an Ohio University sweatshirt to spark a conversation with someone.
A graduate student commencement was held Friday, with two undergraduate commencement ceremonies held Saturday. Dr. Michael Sweeney, a professor and editor of the Journalism History journal, spoke at the graduate commencement. Sweeney is a former reporter and editor for National Geographic and Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
The guest undergraduate commencement speaker this year was Alex Sheen, a 2007 graduate of OU who studied business administration. Sheen is the founder of “because I said I would,” a nonprofit that is dedicated to bettering humanity through promises made and kept.
Sheen asked the graduates a familiar question: who do you want to be in life?
“Who we should be, at least in some part, should be based on ‘who is,” Sheen said. “In other words, who is worth imitating? Who deserves respect? I think we can answer that with two simple questions ... Who is the most reliable person in your whole life? … Who is the least reliable person in your life?” Sheen encouraged graduates to be most like the first option.
As his nonprofit implies, Sheen believes making and keeping promises is how the world could become a better place. Sheen has made many “promise cards” to encourage himself and to make promises to others. The premise involves giving that promise card to another person as a form of collateral; when and if he later keeps that promise, he retrieves the card as a token reminder. All students who walked across the stage on Saturday were given blank promise cards to try for themselves.
He also encouraged them that an individual person can change the world.
“The world is cynical. It is skeptical. It is pessimistic. Can an individual really change the world all by themselves?” Sheen asked. “If there’s anything that I have learned since my time at Ohio University, it is that perhaps the most dangerous idea in this entire world is the thought that the actions of one person don’t matter. Because when we all start believing that, well then, the world does nothing.”
Sheen challenged the graduates to make their next promise to keep themselves on the right path and for the betterment of humanity.
Afyouni, the student speaker, offered similar advice.
“As we leave today, feeling older, wiser, and maybe a little more tired than we did four years ago, we must always remember the values we were taught during our time here,” Afyouni said. “Show civility, empathy and kindness to those who need. Take care and strive the community of neighbors around you. Commit to all that you do with determination, passion and a can-do attitude. Be proud of your character and the person you have become and will continue to be. But most importantly, never forget what it means to be a Bobcat.”