Commencement speakers offer wisdom to graduates

When the commencement speakers for this year’s graduation ascend the steps of the stage in the Rose Garden, listeners will hear stories of heart and redemption, perseverance and hope.

When the commencement speakers for this year’s graduation ascend the steps of the stage in the Rose Garden, listeners will hear stories of heart and redemption, perseverance and hope. Kayla Harrison and Ahmed Bohliqa were selected to capture the ears and hearts of the PSU graduates this June. The Graduation Program Board chose Harrison and Bohliqa from a group of over 30 applicants, a process through which they select speakers based on content, articulation, presentation style, originality and, ultimately, how much the speakers can motivate an audience.

Motivation is definitely delivered by Harrison, who brought one of the committee members to tears as she gave her speech. In high school, Harrison won the Ford Family Scholarship award that allowed her to choose any college in Oregon and receive a full ride. She chose PSU for its diversity. Harrison decided to major in Public Health and worked her way up to become Sports Manager for the Multnomah County Special Olympics.

This winter, just two terms away from graduating, Harrison leaned against a construction wall and fell three stories onto a concrete floor. She fractured nine vertebrae, had a skull fracture and spent nine days in Emmanuel Hospital, two of which were spent in ICU. Harrison could have taken winter term off, with seizures and short-term memory loss; instead, she took 12 credits that winter term.

“I was in the hospital for the majority of Christmas break, and then I was home, not moving. When I returned to PSU I had a walking cane, I was seeing double, I was throwing up in class…I was not going to give up. Everyone assumed I was going to wait till next year to graduate, but I said no. My professors were amazing; they were unbelievable. Before I was a very quick learner, but then everything came to a pause,” said Harrison.

Harrison continues to work with athletes with disabilities, and sees the blessing in her injury as a realization of what athletes have to endure. After graduation she plans to take a year off to focus on recovery, and then attend grad school at OSU. She hopes to open her own nonprofit that focuses on female reproductive health for the disabled community.

Bohliqa has also has his fair share of perseverance. For Bohliqa, being an international student has presented both hardship and opportunity. He represents PSU’s diversity and what can be achieved through hard work and leadership. He has held different leadership positions each year that he has attended PSU. He began taking English classes with the Intensive English Language Program in the winter of 2006.

Currently, Bohliqa is the coordinator for the Organization of International Students. During his tenure, he brought International Night 2011 and the International Sustainability Exhibit and Panel to PSU. Bohliqa’s additional positions and involvement may be too long a list, and for a student who has been so heavily involved in extra curricular activities he has a wide range of opportunities awaiting him as he leave the doors of PSU.

“My dream is to be a social entrepreneur. I want someday to start a business that focuses on philanthropic goals. I’m also interested in technology and business management,” said Bohliqa.

The title of his speech, “A Stranger’s Experience,” represents all the

aspects of what has made him successful at PSU. Courage to pursue the opportunities afforded to him make up Bohliqa’s strong character.

“I encourage all PSU students to utilities the opportunities available for them and keep pushing their limits. Honestly, competing with domestic pioneer students has not been easy, but it is possible,” said Bohliqa. In what may be a universal axiom, he credited his success to his parents. “My mother taught me to be happy with what I have first and yet strive to improve it,” he said.

J.R. Tarabocchia, the student affairs outreach coordinator at PSU and the person in charge of entire process commented, “I think these speeches will really resonate with the students, guests and family members. I think that the

committee made a really great choice. We really did have some amazing speeches, every year you hear these amazing stories of students who have overcome something.”  ?