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Seniors Urge Class of 2016 To Believe in Themselves and Take Risks

Student speakers for the 2012 Franklin & Marshall College Convocation prepared the following remarks for the ceremony that took place on Aug. 28. The all-College event, held in F&M's Alumni Sports & Fitness Center, formally welcomed the Class of 2016 to the F&M community. President Daniel R. Porterfield introduced student speakers Melissa Sandoval '13 and Akbar Hossain '13.

Introduction by College President Daniel R. Porterfield:

In 2011-12, F&M students or young alums earned five national fellowships—a Harry S. Truman Scholarship, two Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowships, a George J. Mitchell Scholarship, and a Fulbright Research Fellowship.

Two of those five will speak today. Melissa Sandoval and Akbar Hossain, both seniors, competed against students from institutions like Stanford, Princeton, Harvard and MIT. They helped F&M become the only college or university in the country to have winners in the four fellowships competitions I just mentioned.

This is what Franklin & Marshall College is all about. We believe this place creates opportunity for any student to pursue any dream as far as his or her ambition reaches, to achieve in extraordinary ways, and to earn prestigious honors.

Melissa Sandoval is a public health major. Her Pickering Fellowship, given by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, financially provides for post-graduate education to prepare Melissa for a career in the United States Foreign Service and will guarantee her employment. At F&M, Melissa serves as co-president of SISTERS, a club that provides support for women of all backgrounds to form a sisterhood of thoughtful, analytical and well-rounded women. Since the summer of 2011, she has been part of a team working with a South African orphanage to provide beds, school clothing and other necessities to the children they serve. She was a House adviser for two years in Weis College House and is a member of Life After College Success, a program that helps students define and achieve their post-college goals.

Akbar Hossain returned to campus as a senior fresh off a summer internship at the White House. Akbar engages with a wide variety of activities on campus, including the John Marshall Pre-Law Honor Society; .08, which promotes alcohol-free social activities at F&M; the VITA-Volunteer Income Tax Assistance project, which provides tax assistance to Lancaster residents; and the College House system, serving as a House adviser in Brooks College House after being president last year. Akbar is a government major at F&M, and his Truman Scholarship recognizes our nation's exceptional young leaders and supports their graduate studies in public-service fields.

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Melissa Sandoval:

Welcome Class of 2016,

As an eager freshman, I quickly learned that anything is possible at Franklin & Marshall College. Arriving in Amish Country was certainly a huge change, especially for a Harlem Native like myself. However, I was able to acclimate with the help of supportive faculty, amazing new friends and the help of encouraging mentors and advisers. Looking at you today, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that despite the butterflies and nervousness that you feel, F&M will feel like home in no time. At F&M, no student is just a face in the crowd. Faculty and professional staff offer welcoming waves and smiles whenever they see you, on and off campus.

F&M is known for its prestige and rigor. Diplomats pride themselves on having a strong work ethic. With so many opportunities, you can feel overwhelmed—trust me—so it's best for you all to fully immerse yourselves in your environments, because you are not alone. Taking on active roles by initiating group study sessions and arriving to class a few minutes early to ask your professor a question about last nights reading will help you surmount your obstacles and succeed. There is always a reason to smile on campus. I can distinctly remember sophomore year in my morning psychology class, my professor asked if anyone was having a rough week and I hesitated, but raised my hand. She asked me to share and get it off my chest, so I did. I told her I had pulled an all-nighter, and that I was really stressed about my final papers and exams. After listening to what I had to say, she pulled out and gave to me a dozen pink roses, which completely caught me by surprise and instantly brightened my day. This is just one of many instances in which a professor has shown me that they truly care.

Professors are human, too, and have the potential to become great friends. They have been in our shoes before, and when they notice we are having a rough day, they will always reach out. I encourage you all to do the same. Reach out to your academic advisers, dons, deans, prefects and professors. Take a moment to sit in the common areas of your Houses and get to know your peers… chat with your roommates or the workers in the dining hall. These are the types of relationships that will help build a strong foundation for your four years at F&M and will also create lasting and wonderful memories.

Can everyone please close their eyes?

Raise your hand if this is your first time away from home.

Raise your hand if you are scared or unsure about what's next.

Raise your hand if you are feeling nervous, anxious, or excited.

Raise your hand if you are ready to try something different and embark on an incredible new journey.

Keep your eyes closed and raise your hands high.

Keep your hands up and open your eyes. Take a look around. This is your support system, and you are definitely not alone, so be there for each other.

College can be some of the best four years of your life. It is said very often, but you only realize the magnitude of these words when you live them. Therefore, I challenge and encourage you all to step out of your comfort zones, join organizations and/or clubs that are promoting cultures or activities that you’ve never been exposed to before…Take on a leadership role. F&M has so much to offer, so take advantage of the opportunities. Three years at F&M have enabled me to participate in study abroad opportunities in South Africa and England, where I met and bonded with incredible locals and F&M peers that still play integral roles in my life today. As co-president of SISTERS and a House adviser for two years, I have been fortunate enough to take on leadership roles and also work in teams.

Entering F&M as an intended pre-med major, it was with time that I realized my passion for public health and public diplomacy. After hours of working with Career Services and professors to edit my resume and applications, I stand before you as an undergraduate Pickering Fellow. I attribute my successes to my supportive peers, family, professors and professional staff who have nourished my development and helped me transform from a shy freshman to a confident senior.

Akbar and I gladly pass the torch to you all and hope you enjoy the challenge of figuring out who you really are and who you want to become. You're a diplomat now, and you're worthy of success untold!

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Akbar Hossain:

Good morning, and welcome to one of the finest traditions here at Franklin & Marshall College. It has been a very busy, tiring and, I hope, memorable orientation. Class of 2016, you are about to begin the next chapter in your life, with new friends, new experiences and a completely new surrounding. And so I urge you to simply take in this very moment, take a deep breath, look around at the faces and the buildings that now make up the college you can call your own. Today, I have a few words of wisdom to share with you, in the hopes that my experiences can help shape and encourage the path you choose to take during your next four years at F&M.

It was a day much like today, three years ago. I was sitting in your seats, nervous about making friends, feeling insecure and out of place. If I had known sitting in that chair, just as you are today, that within three years I would have helped a Sudanese detainee gain asylum in the United States and be part of an organization that returned over $1 million to the Lancaster community, I would say, "that’s crazy!" But you know, I sat there looking at this same stage and thought, I'd like to stand up there one day. Within a few years, I climbed the ladder from representative to president, holding up that blue-and-green flag of one of the best Houses on campus on this very stage, last year. And now, today, I'm standing in front of you, telling you about my journey and the experiences that brought me here.

I wouldn't have made it up here if it wasn't for accepting the risks of challenge and ambition. At some point in your time at F&M, you will find the opportunity to try something out of the ordinary, something daunting, even something unreachable. And I strongly urge you to pursue that challenge. Whether it be studying abroad in a foreign country, trying a new sport or even making your way onto this stage. Now is the time to find out who you are and who you want to be.

As you all become acclimated to the F&M community, remember that you all have your own ambitions that you will want to pursue. A senior White House official once shared a valuable lesson that I would like to pass onto you: “only you have the ability to let go of your ambitions.” No matter if there are distractions or obstacles, know that you have the power to control your own direction.

Along your journey, you may question your ambitions and ability to achieve something unreachable. Last year, I found myself in this very situation when applying for the Truman and the White House internship. At times I felt I wasn't a strong enough candidate, finding myself surrounded by impressive applicants from top schools around the country. But with a little bit of confidence, perseverance and support from the F&M community, I ended up at the White House this summer and represented the State of Pennsylvania at the TSLW (Truman Scholars Leadership Week).

Over the summer, First Lady Michelle Obama confirmed my thoughts when she told our intern class that "once you get to the pinnacle you plan to reach, you tend to realize that the people up there are not that much smarter or different than you. You can hold your own." And I feel that I did just that, not because I was better than the others who won the Truman or that worked at the White House, but because I took a chance that others were afraid to pursue.

Melissa and I want to welcome you all again to the F&M community. You all have incredible resources that can help propel your future and your ambitions… no matter how high they may be. Enjoy the next four years at F&M. When you reach your senior year, look back and ask, "have my actions made an impact on someone else’s life? Have my actions made a difference for someone in any way what-so-ever?" If the answer is a "yes," smile and know that you are making the world a better place. After all, that’s what John Marshall and Ben Franklin did. The next Truman Scholar, the next Pickering Fellow and perhaps the next White House interns are sitting right in front of us, and we cannot wait to watch you grow and develop into successful Diplomats!