Nadia Murad

Commencement Address at Chapman University - May 20, 2022

Nadia Murad
May 20, 2022— Orange, California
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Greetings, faculty, staff, students, friends, and families. It is wonderful to be celebrating here with you today.

I would like to thank President Struppa for your leadership, shaping an institution that is so committed to the pursuit of knowledge, that supports social and international justice. I'm looking forward to staying involved with the university and its remarkable students and faculty in the years to come.

Thank you, Dean Keene, for warm welcome this week and all the faculty and staff who have supported this and other events I have been lucky enough to participate in.

I also want to thank the wonderful Professor Jane Browne [applause], who first connected me to this institution and its students.

And I am grateful to all the students who have read my book, “The Last Girl,” and studied the Yazidi genocide. I thank you for not turning away from the world's difficult realities and for pursuing a better understanding of the world, your place in it, its injustices, and what you can do to right them.

I am honored to have the chance to speak to all of you on one of the most important days of your lives.

First, I have to say how amazed I am by what you have accomplished. You worked hard, you had ambition and optimism, and now you get to celebrate—and we celebrate you.

And to be honest, I'm a little bit envious. I'm currently in college and I know how demanding it is and what a sense of relief it will be for it to be over. And of course, I know how much I will miss it the moment it ends. I imagine many of you are feeling the same way.

Over the past eight years, I have given a lot of speeches in a lot of different rooms to a lot of different people, but there is something special about being here today with you. This field is full of optimism and promise. No matter what is going on in the world outside, you are just starting to shape your futures. No matter how daunting our collective challenges as a global community are, your presence here tells me that you haven't given up.

You are here because you believe in the world. You believe in education. You believe in the health and future of a peaceful world, and you believe in your power to do something good. I believe in it, too.

This audience is different from all other audiences I have spoken to, because I can feel the hope all around me. I am moved being with all of you today, everyone so different from each other, celebrating the same achievement.

No doubt you came from different places, have different outlooks and different ambitions, but our differences make us who we are. Our differences connect us. So I carry my own hope here. Graduation is a time when you start to think about who you want to be and how you can make that life for yourself. My hope is that you will also start to think about what makes you who you are and what you will fight for.

Let me tell you something about me and my life, what makes me who I am and what I fight for.

I was born in a small village in Iraq called Kocho. Kocho is a Yazidi village. Maybe you have heard of it or my religion through stories of war or terrorism, violence and cruelty. It is true that in 2014 we were attacked by Islamic State terrorists and I was one of thousands of women enslaved by ISIS. I had family members who were murdered and others who disappeared. It was genocide, and it forever changed my community and me. I was still in high school when it happened.

Perhaps some of you have visited Iraq. Maybe some of you are from there. Some of you might have studied our country in class or read about it in the newspaper. To you it may feel far away, a distant place you struggle to relate to. I understand that.

When I was a girl in Kocho, I never imagined I would ever live outside of the village, never mind in the U.S., or that I would travel to Europe or address the United Nations. I have been to places and done things I could never have dreamed of, all because of who I am and what I choose to fight for.

I traveled the world talking about the genocide, but who I am and why I fight is about so much more than that.

My Kocho is a beautiful place, small and remote but full of love. I remember the summer time, sleeping with my family on the roof in the evening breeze. My siblings and I played practical jokes on one another on the farm we worked on. My sisters and I built whole cities out of recycled boxes and cans for our dolls to play in.

Iraq is my country, my homeland. It is huge and diverse. Parts are sandy and hot, and others are swampy and green. It had beautiful music and dancing, fireworks on holidays. It is the only place in the world I can imagine living my whole life, perhaps watching my own family graduate one day, full of hope and ambition and smiles for their future.

When I escaped ISIS, the world in front of me seemed suddenly tiny. The world was a refugee camp, and society tried to cage me into my experience of trauma. But I demanded a second life. I decided I was going to fight for Yazidis, for other victims of gender-based violence, but most of all for my mother.

My world widened when I started to fight back. I found my voice and I used it to tell the world about the crimes committed against my community. The same crimes I survived are being committed against women and girls in Ukraine, Syria and many other places, and I will not accept it.

I fight for accountability, and we are starting to make a progress. Last year a German court convicted an ISIS member of genocide. It was the first time this had ever happened anywhere in the world.

I fight to show the world that the Iraq they read about in newspapers is far from the whole story. To stand up for human rights and justice is to defend the good in the world, not just rage against the bad.

That is me. I am Nadia, youngest of 11 children. I lost my father to illness. I lost my mother to war. My home was small. It smelled of baking bread. I love to learn languages. I love to do my sisters’ hair and makeup.

I'm a survivor of gender-based violence, and I fight for everyone who was subjected to the same thing and for people who I hope never will be.

Who are you and what will you fight for?

The world is big and beautiful and troubled. It needs you. It needs you to learn about it; to travel with an open mind; to give up your preconceptions about religions, countries, cultures and governments.

Read and ask questions and pursue conversations with people because they are different from you and think differently than you, not because they are the same and will agree.

Don't take things at face value. Don't buy into popular opinions. Develop a defense against even the most seductive conspiracies and disinformation, like you protect your self from disease.

No matter what you pursue after today, whether go to work for a top company or become a writer or a teacher, if you start a family or run for political office, if you become a doctor or an artist or none of these things or a combination of all of them, will you also try to make things better?

Will you look at your life, big moments and small, good and bad, and use what you believe in to help others?

The world needs you. I need you. And we all, every one of us here and every person beyond this campus, believe in your power. You should believe in it, too. Once you do, you will be amazed at your power to shape a better world.

Thank you so much and congratulations to the class of 2022. [applause]

Chapman University. “University Commencement Ceremony 2022 With Nadia Murad.” YouTube video, 1:19:00. May 20, 2022.

Nadia’s Initiative. “Nadia Murad Commencement Speech at Chapman University.” YouTube video, 16:49. May 21, 2022.