Prepared remarks for Commencement 2013 by Linda Zhang '13.

Good afternoon, President Spar, Dean Hinkson, Provost Bell, honored Trustees, distinguished Guests, Faculty, Family, Friends and - of course - our own “Fabulous Class of 2013!” I thank you for the privilege and honor of speaking here today. For those of you still dressed in your senior ball attire, you look just as beautiful as you did last night.

When I was 15 years old, I left China to attend the Calhoun School, right here on the Upper West side. For the first time in my life, I was a foreigner, and it was thrilling. Everywhere I looked there was something new: Students had lockers all their own, they wore clothes that didn’t match, laughed out loud in the hallways, ate strange food in the cafeteria, played music on pretty pink iPods and even disagreed with their teachers. A generous Calhoun family opened their home to me. They had a 15-year-old son named Ben, who - whether he wanted me or not - suddenly found a stranger living in his midst and infringing on his privacy. Before long, Ben staked a claim to his space, by objecting, and tossing carrots at me while I slept. However, as he carried on with his antics, I remained true to my upbringing and counteracted his wildness with tranquility. Eventually my “foreignness” faded away and word “sister” took its place. Ben became the brother I always wanted, but never had. I found my footing, I found my family away from home, and I found my confidence to move ahead.

Four years ago, when we arrived at Barnard, never imagining that this four-acre college campus could be where the word “foreign” would take on such new meaning. As we delved deeper into our intellectual curiosities, and took full advantage of what Barnard and New York City had to offer, we realized that, wherever we may be in the world, “foreign” is more than strangeness or disorientation. To be foreign, whether from family or home, culture or even identity, is to invite adventure and growth.

Barnard offered us exciting opportunities to challenge ourselves academically and socially. For those of us who swore never to look at number again, it was the science requirement that drove us to take up the gauntlet, and for those of us who had never explored the world through the lens of a camera, it was the photography class that summoned us to think. Those classes where we stumbled pushed us further than we ever imagined we could go. Each of us came from diverse academic perspectives, which made us all foreigners by definition. Our common thirst for knowledge united us. We recognized that Barnard’s unique educational process was transforming us by offering us the opportunity to master subject that were initially foreign and daunting.

Do you remember the awkwardness of orientation? Do you recall the forced conversations, the struggle to connect with all of those unfamiliar faces in your group? It’s hard to believe how quickly self-consciousness transformed to the ease we feel today. During our first year, we rapidly formed our own little families; eventually the quad became our home away from home. The strangers we met during those first few weeks became the friends we ultimately laughed and cried with, the friends that told us we were beautiful when we felt ugly. Whether we were from India, China, Germany,  Los Angeles or the Upper West Side, we wholeheartedly gave it our best until our feelings of discomfort were replaced with feelings of warmth, intimacy and camaraderie.

We are more than a college, we are a community; we are more than classmates, we are a family. And today - our Graduation, our Commencement - is the next great moment in our shared lives. We owe it to ourselves, and to each other, to make the most of what lies ahead. We will need each other’s help, love and loyalty. And we will succeed because of Barnard, with Barnard, and for Barnard. Because, wherever we go from here, we will all be “foreigners” at some place and time. And I believe that for all of us, learning to be a foreigner ultimately showed us who we wanted to be.

So here's to us, the Barnard class of 2103, Congratulations and the best of luck in the years ahead!