Nariman Heikal, associate director of program, has been supporting students at the Marble Hill School for International Studies for the last four years. We were honored to have Nariman deliver graduation remarks to the Class of 2019 this June. Sharing her own family’s story, Nariman urged students to create their own communities and to serve others.
See below for the full text of Nariman’s speech, and read this full account of graduation at Marble Hill.
We are finally here! We made it. You made it.
I want to start by giving credit where credit is due. Thank you to everyone in this room who made this great success possible. Thank you to our hardworking teachers and staff.
Thank you to Ms. Reyes, who carries the school on her back and is always a bright ray of sunshine, even on the worst days. Thank you to Ms. Garcia, who can wear six-inch heels, text and call on two phones at once, and has everybody and their mother’s phone number, all while taking care of every student and family’s individual needs.
Thank you to Ms. Labrada and Mr. Berry. Bearing witness to the love and dedication you poured into each student’s unique post-secondary path was truly inspirational. Room 660 was forever “lit” due to your unending efforts.
Big shout-out to our dream team administration: Assistant Principal Parris, Assistant Principal Dingman, and of course, the one and only Principal Larson. None of us would be in this room today if it wasn’t for your tireless devotion. We owe you.
Thank you to the over 70 mentors who are joining us today. Thank you for continuously showing up and showing out for your mentees. Most of you have been in your students’ lives from the very beginning—for four years—sharing cold, double-cut pizza in a sweaty cafeteria over awkward ice breakers. We appreciate you and part of this day is dedicated to your unwavering commitment, guidance, and friendship every step of the way. We can’t wait to see how your mentor-mentee relationships continue to blossom in this new chapter.
Last but never least, the most special thank you goes to all the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and older siblings who raised our scholars on their shoulders so that they can reach for the stars. Thank you to all the mothers here today who brought you into this world (and sometimes threatened to take you out of it) but gave you all they had to see you here.
Students, family is where you come from—your roots. Please always hold on to them. Take a moment to feel this warmth and light shining onto you—your ancestors are smiling down on you today.
Now that we’ve paid our proper respects…
Class of 2019—my babies. I am over the moon today! I am so proud to see you in this room, in your caps and gowns! You look gorgeous.
So now I will finally accept all your Instagram friend requests—you are officially the graduating class of 2019!
Addressing you today is the biggest honor I’ve ever been privileged to accept. We’ve been through so much these last four years—literal blood, sweat, and tears. Through the hardship: Adjusting to high school, many of you adjusting to a whole new country and learning the language, scrambling to create a resume and apply for internships, researching colleges, and actually applying, getting accepted and sometimes even getting rejected.
You rose from the ashes like the magnificent beings you are. You know we have no choice but to bounce back—and you have done it with such triumph. It took hundreds of application parties, Starbucks gift cards, and last-minute recommendation requests that I said I wouldn’t write. But I always did write them, didn’t I? I can never say no to you guys.
In these last four years, you have become my family, and I often found myself going into mama bear mode to advocate on your behalf, to ensure that you had access to as many opportunities and resources as possible, because you deserve only the very best. Y’all know I’m protective. So if anyone ever gives you any trouble when you get to college, just call me and I will be so quick to square up. Just kidding—but I will definitely write a strongly-worded email. I’ll always have your backs.
You know I always have something to say, so today, I want to leave you with three words of wisdom—or as DJ Khaled says, major keys—that I have learned from a series of mistakes that many of us “firsts” in our families make along the way.
Please carry these words with you. Build on them with the new discoveries you will make along the way and pass them onto others.
This day is incredibly special to me because education has always been sacred in my family. I know I always tell you that I did not cry at my wedding, but I bawled like a baby at my college graduation because that day wasn’t just for me—it was a token of appreciation for all the people who came before me that cleared a path for me to be the first in my family to earn a degree.
I remember my dad pushing everyone out of the way because he wanted to be in every picture. He kept saying “today feels like my graduation, too.” For all of us who are in here that love you– even those that can’t be here physically but are still here—it feels like we’ve graduated too because you carry with you our hopes and dreams—you represent the better future that we aspire towards. No pressure though.
My parents came to this country from Egypt because they, like many of your parents, wanted their children to have options—to have a quality education and to make an honest living. We didn’t have much growing up, but we always made education a number-one priority. I remember my mom using subway tokens (we didn’t have metro cards yet in the ‘90s) to buy food so that we could afford to attend a private school. When I was a teenager, my dad was out of work, but would always spend his last $20 on buying me historical fiction books—I’m not gonna hide the fact that I was a nerd. The point is, I learned to invest in my education early on because knowledge is power.
This is my first major key: Education is the key to freedom—never stop learning.
The Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon Him, used to say: “Seek knowledge from the crib to the grave.” Your mind is the only thing that no one can ever take from you. As you move into college, your careers, and beyond, you must continue to challenge yourself by learning new things. Just like the latest iPhone, you have to keep updating! Exercise your mind—if you don’t use it, you lose it!
It’s unbelievable to think that you will no longer roam the halls of the eighth floor of the JFK campus, lining the hallways while waiting three hours after school for your iMentor event to start. I’m going to miss the in-between times after class or before an event, when we got to debate, argue, joke, and even cry together. We discussed race, religion, politics, relationships—you even taught me how to say “qué lo qué mani” when I greeted you at the door.
Witnessing your evolution from ABCD strands to autonomous, accomplished young adults has been one of the highest honors of my life. Each one of you is so beautiful to me, and I sincerely hope that when I have my own kids one day, they turn out just like you: sincere, passionate, intellectual, and forgiving.
This brings me to my second major key: You are the friends that you keep.
Over the last four years, you’ve been so lucky to meet friends at Marble Hill that became family—scholars from all over the world who loved one another honestly, united under the purpose of self-improvement and the pursuit of knowledge.
You have proved that you know how to make good friends—don’t act brand new when you go to college. When you go off to college, kickstart your careers. Surround yourself with good, honest people that will lift you up, not bring you down. If you wouldn’t introduce them to your folks at home, chances are you shouldn’t be hanging with them in the first place. Make friends that take you to the next level. In this next chapter, you get to create your own community, kind of like a Simms game—I don’t even know if y’all are old enough to have played that game. But anyways, create a solid community of likeminded people.
The last major key that I leave you with: Earning this education comes with the obligation to serve others.
If there’s anything that being part of the Marble Hill family taught me, it’s taking advantage of every opportunity you come across with urgency and hunger, but also with poise and responsibility. I know you will carry this notion with you forever. Big ups to Principal Larson, who I’ve personally witnessed writing at her desk until even the security goes home so that our students can have once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.
Many of you have had the privilege of traveling the world, studying at Ivy League institutions, serving in high profile internships. Both at home and abroad, you have represented your school, your cultures, and your families with honor.
All this is to say: Even now, as high school graduates, you have had experiences and opportunities afforded to you that others can only dream of. With the education you have received and will continue to build on, it is now your responsibility to clear the way for the young people who will come after you. You best believe that, in another four years, I’ll be emailing you all, asking you to become mentors in the Bronx—obviously the best borough!
Now more than ever, we need to stick together: Love and serve one another without expecting anything in return. Build each other up so we can take down the systems that are designed against us. Together, we can look bigotry right in the eye and declare:
- Black lives matter.
- Muslims are good people.
- LGBTQ students should feel safe and feel loved.
- Survivors should be believed the first time.
- Women should have decision-making power over their own bodies.
- And immigrants and their children make America so great.
- We make this country so great.
Graduates, I love you and believe in you with every cell in my body. Know that everyone in this room will always protect you and continue fighting for you because we have become family, and family is forever. We may eat different foods (some more seasoned than others), pray differently, dance to different music, but you will always have a home with us.
To the Marble Hill Class of 2019—you are deserving, you are excellent, you are kings and queens. Don’t ever let anyone tell you different. We will never stop cheering you on from the sidelines. Now go make us proud and go get that shmoney!