2015 Commencement Address

From the Philippines, Kimberly Rodriguez studied political science with concentrations in economics and history. Her work as President with ADvocacy earned her the NYU President’s Service Award. She also served on the organizing board of Sila Connections and founded Saariya ­— the NYUAD yearbook.

Wherever I go and whatever may happen, I know that I will always have a story to tell. And so will you.

Kimberly Rodriguez

For many of you gathered here today, our family and friends, all of this is a new and possibly overwhelming experience. You are likely meeting people from places you’ve never heard of, and have unknowingly been subjected to your children’s experiments to see whether or not our families will get along as well as we have speculated you will. Yes, we’ve been talking about you behind your backs. If this has seemed like a lot of cultural differences and information to take in without enough time to process it all, then congratulations – you have experienced what it’s like to be an NYU Abu Dhabi student during Marhaba Week. So marhaba, welcome to NYU Abu Dhabi.

I hope the past few days were filled with joy at seeing the place to which you sent your son, daughter, niece, nephew or grandchild four years ago. Your collective decision to let us go on this unexpected adventure is ultimately what brought us here, together, right now. For putting your trust in us and in this university, and for trusting that you had raised us to be able to make this journey on our own, we thank you.

To John Sexton, without whom the idea of NYUAD would not even exist, and to His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and the leaders of Abu Dhabi and the UAE, who collaborated with NYU in developing this vision of a university the likes of which the world had never seen before, to Al Bloom and the NYUAD leadership who continue to further develop that vision, and to the 30,000 men who made this vision a reality – we owe all of you more than we know.

We also owe our thanks to the staff and administrators who run a truly global university – you have broadened our horizons in ways we could not have imagined.

To the individuals who keep this university running – the dining staff who memorize our orders, the security guards who greet us with an encouraging nod as we walk back into our dorms at 3:30 am during finals week, the facilities staff who respond to our calls for help when our showers get clogged (again), to the drivers who wait patiently as that one friend comes sprinting across campus – thank you for taking care of us.

And of course, to our professors and mentors who have been persistent in their guidance, sincere in their confidence, and who have never faltered in their dedication to a community still finding its footing on shifting sands – we owe you our gratitude for all that you’ve taught us, in and outside of the classroom. I hope that we have been a worthy investment.

Finally, to my classmates. Let me first express what I know we’re all thinking: it’s the end! And in some ways, it is: it is the end of spontaneously hopping on planes for the weekend without plans or itineraries, the end of what was essentially a four-year long slumber party with so many people we love, some of whom you never even thought you’d grow to like, the end of capstone, papers, projects, problem sets, all nighters, and the end of never ending salmon wraps. It’s the end of a lot of things, and the beginning of even more. But I don’t want to talk about new beginnings, because doing so implies a sense of forgetting all that we have gone through and all that everyone in this room and beyond it has contributed to get us to this moment.

Today marks a shift – a momentous one, mind you – in our young lives, but it is not the time to start fresh. If we look at the next chapter as a blank slate, then I dare say that we won’t be giving justice to the experiences that we have cultivated in this one-of-a-kind social experiment. Like it or not, we have all changed – for the better or for the worse, that’s up to you, actually all of you, to decide – but we are all inevitably and incurably changed. New faces and new places are old news, and we are seasoned veterans of second chances. I can’t count how many times I thought I had to say goodbye to someone or some place, my roommates before we went abroad New York, alumni and underclassmen who are with us here today, only to be pleasantly surprised to find them back in my life in one way or another. Let us not look at today as a new beginning, but as the beginning of our building upon the unique foundation of the past four years.

There will be losses, for sure. There will be 141 fewer people to remember that place behind Al Nasr street and across the Cultural Foundation, PO Box 129188, 141 fewer to remember Saadiyat before it quite felt like home, and 141 fewer NetIDs to post under potentially interesting school activities on Facebook. But let’s admit it, the real world has just become 141 people more cosmopolitan. Even if your glance down from your departing plane is the last one you’ll ever have of Abu Dhabi, or even if you’re the one looking up to say goodbye, we will always be bound by this shared experience that few others will ever really understand. Wherever we may be, we are always going to be a little bit jetlagged.

We helped carry the weight of a university in transition, and we have constantly been challenged to take on different perspectives, to question our own mindset, and to play another octave of the piano. We have jumped leaps and bounds, both forwards and backwards, in our convictions about ourselves to reach the very unique vantage point from which we celebrate today. Our paths will diverge from here, but let’s not rush to our separate ways. This is our final intersection point as a full class, and while our lives will always run in parallel, they may never cross like this again. Savor it. Stop and take it all in.

The days and nights were long but the years were short. It has been an absolute honor and privilege to have been a part of this story, to have been a part of all of your stories and to have all of you in mine, because now, wherever I go and whatever may happen, I know that I will always have a story to tell. And so will you.

That was supposed to be the end of my speech, but it didn't feel right. I cannot tell all of your stories. As the other half of this year’s two-person yearbook committee, I can probably tell you who said what, and exactly how they looked like as a baby. Here is a brief compilation of some of their messages, the final word of the Class of 2015.

"Sand here
, sand there,
 sand everywhere."

"I don’t know what I expected, but I didn’t expect this."

"Here, I found my family."

"I will remember you when I travel, and I can carry your love to any country and to any existence."

"Be brave and be bold – we are not done here."

"I will wake up 
one day and wonder—did that really happen?"

"I drank the tap water everyday, but I’m sure things will turn out just fine."

"We might be pushed and pulled apart for the rest of our lives, but you will always be my home."

"It’s been the realest. I would do it again."

Thank you.

Commencement took place on May 24, 2015 at NYU Abu Dhabi's Saadiyat Campus