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Edil Yousuf: Senior class commencement speaker

Yousuf was voted as senior speaker by students who watched her audition. (Aisha Gonzalez)
Yousuf was voted as senior class speaker by students who watched her audition. (Aisha Gonzalez)

After a few weeks of voting, live auditions and a second round of voting, Edil Yousuf was named the senior class speaker for the 2017 Commencement on March 13.

Based off of feedback from last year’s graduating class, the senior speaker selection process was changed according to Senior Class Council President Mary Ruiz. in August, a new survey was sent out to seniors asking the class of 2017 what they wanted the process to look like. From the responses, the new process started with speech submissions consisting of a video and transcript. Submissions were then shared with the seniors to vote on their top three picks. The top three then auditioned in Adams Plaza during lunch and the final votes dictated who the speaker would be.

The three finalists were announced Feb. 6, 2017: Zuhra Ayubzai, Shay Thornton and Yousuf. The three finalists auditioned live on March 1 and final voting opened up right after.

Yousuf transferred from DeAnza College in Cupertino, California. She chose Mills to challenge herself, and because Mills did not deduce her to a number. She saw Mills as a social justice focused institution.

“When going to Mills for the first time, I enjoyed meeting people that thought similar to me as well as differently than me, and I wanted to have that in my classrooms as well,” Yousuf said.

As a first generation student, Yousuf is proud of herself and everyone who helped her. Mills provided the support and accommodations needed for her growth and path to graduation. Being a marginalized woman, Yousuf didn’t always feel she had a space in school before attending Mills, but she pushed on despite that.

“I was always an outsider in schools. As a Black Muslim woman, I never felt like I fit the norm or ideal of society,” Yousuf said. “Many times I felt trapped in my body, but I was proud of myself for pushing through any adversary and putting my education first.”

Once arriving at Mills, Yousuf said her experience was “very different but exactly the same” as what she had imagined it to be. From the classroom and the community, Yousuf’s experiences have changed the way she views the world and the people she meets.

“When I interact with other people, it’s now always shocking to me that people may look and interpret things so differently because I went to school and thrived in a bubble,” said Yousuf.

Senior Sheryl Miralles, who voted in the last round of speeches, appreciated how Yousuf’s speech was intentional and personal, and how it addressed the class of 2017. The quotes that Yousuf used impacted Miralles in a personal way, speaking to her experiences at Mills as well as validating the fact that the senior class has earned the right to be at Mills.

“Towards the end of her speech, I really liked the quote from Desmond Tu Tu: ‘My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together,'” said Miralles. “Personally, it speaks to one of the most important things I have learned at Mills: the importance of community and looking out for one another.”

As commencement approaches and the class of 2017 prepares for graduation, those who have heard Yousuf’s speech appreciate what she will say and believe she will be able to put into words what people are feeling.

“I think the crowd will find Edil‘s speech incredibly encouraging and compelling,” Ruiz said. “At least that’s how I felt after listening to it. The way she was able to tie her personal story, the value of knowing our own history and our potential all into one piece was done incredibly well.”

Yousuf is excited to walk across the stage, despite her experiences leading up to Mills and the challenges she faces as a marginalized woman. She is grateful for the support she has had along the way.

Yousuf says she is proud of her accomplishments. Her advice for the seniors as they approach their last few days and prepare for what comes next is to “to choose yourself.”

“It can get very tasking dealing with so many outside forces, racism, homophobia, sexism etc.,” Yousuf said.  “But you have to not let these things alter how you see yourself. Take breaks, shower yourself with love and affirmations, but never let anything crush your ambition or drive.”