They’re ordinary UC Davis students who thought it would be fun to speak in front of a few thousand people. They’re aiming to defy clichés, make you laugh and leave UC Davis with a positive memory. UC Davis undergraduate commencement speakers will be delivering short speeches at each of the undergraduate commencement ceremonies.
Courtney Chadwell, a senior human development major who will speak at the College of Agriculture commencement, said that she aims to talk about universal Aggie experiences.
“I talk about biking in roundabouts, riding a Unitrans bus and I go through all the things that make up what the Aggie is,” she said. “[The Aggie] is a made-up mascot and no one really knows what it is so I want to talk about what it means to be an Aggie.”
Others feel that their time for the speech can be difficult to explain their college experience.
“I have three to five minutes to summarize an entire college experience,” said Ngabo Nzigira, a senior nutrition science major and the second undergraduate speaker for the College of Agriculture commencement.
Nzigira said that he will be focusing on important aspects of the college experience.
“I’ll be talking about three things that are essential and universal and global college experiences,” he said.
Shawdee Rouhafza, a senior communications, international relations and French triple major and one of the College of Letters and Science commencement speakers, said that her speech covers topics that are familiar to all students.
“I was just going through a bundle of random memories that everyone could relate to, random things that everyone sees,” she said. “Things like standing in line at Dutton for two hours and realizing once you get to the front that you were supposed to be at Mrak – stuff that everyone has experienced and lessons learned.”
Don’t worry though, these speeches won’t be too cheesy and cliché, the speakers said.
“I want it to be fun and not serious, not sad and sappy, and about our futures because our graduation is a time to celebrate what we’ve accomplished,” Chadwell said.
Nzigira said that his speech is lighthearted but serious.
“I talk about the future and being positive and going forth and creating a new generation,” he said.
Speaking in front of so many people won’t be anxiety inducing, Rouhafza said. She has public speaking experience in speech and debate and drama in high school and as an ASUCD senator.
Chadwell agreed with Rouhafza. She spoke at her high school graduation, so she is not nervous this time around.
“I’m really excited- my adrenaline is going to be so high it won’t bother me at all,” she said.
Others, though, are starting to feel the pressure.
“If you keep thinking about it, it’s going to make you nervous,” Nzigira said. “I’m just going to do it and act normally like I’m having a conversation – just on a bigger scale.”
Nzigira said he hadn’t even considered speaking in front of so many people at graduation until a friend suggested it.
“The student speaker has a very unique position and it’s a great opportunity – I thought I could do an ok job summing it up so I tried out,” he said.
Not only do they have different reasons for speaking, these graduation speakers will also draw from their very different UC Davis experiences.
Nzigira has been involved with the Minority Association of Pre-medical Students, has done undergraduate research, interned at a local high school and volunteered at Clinica Tepati.
Chadwell said that the undergraduate experiences she draws on include her experiences as a peer counselor at The House, being part of Alpha Delta Ki and working for TAPS.
Rouhafza was an orientation leader, a member of the ICA tennis team for four years, an ASUCD senator and participated in the UCDC program while interning for Diane Feinstein.
The speakers plan to depart Davis after graduation for various locations around the globe. Rouhafza will be studying abroad in Paris then perhaps going to law school.
Nzigira plans on going to Rwanda after graduation, where he has family, then Oaxaca, Mexico where he hopes to be work for the Peace Corps in a health related field before possibly going to medical school.
Chadwell plans on going to Sacramento State University for graduate school.
“I’m going to miss Davis and I’m sad to be leaving – I want to be an Aggie forever,” she said. “I’m nervous but excited. It’s scary but everyone is excited to graduate.”
KELLY KRAG-ARNOLD can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.