‘Achieving our dreams’: Student speakers Zahra Hassan, Kayla Thompson share memorable moments, gratitude at 2024 Commencement

Trinity senior Zahra Hassan and joint MD/MBA-candidate Kayla Thompson delivered welcoming remarks at the 2024 Commencement Ceremony.

Hassan, who was selected to represent undergraduate students, is graduating with a Bachelor of Science in economics and a minor in art history. During her time at Duke, Hassan dedicated herself to tutoring and mentoring low-income students.

Thompson, who also received an undergraduate degree from the University in 2019, is earning a Master of Business Administration from the Fuqua School of Business and a Doctor of Medicine from the School of Medicine. As a Duke student, Thompson supported first-generation and low-income students through her service in student organizations and made contributions to the development of the QuadEx residential model.

Hassan began her remarks by celebrating that Sunday’s Commencement was the first ever graduation ceremony for many students in the Class of 2024, whose high school and college experiences were deeply impacted by COVID-19.

“More importantly, our moms are salivating to make up for lost proud mom Facebook posts, so happy Mother’s Day,” Hassan joked.

Hassan centered her speech on the Bee Movie, a 2007 animated film starring Sunday’s Commencement speaker Jerry Seinfeld.

“According to all known laws of aviation, there is no way a bee should be able to fly,” Hassan quoted. “... The bee, of course, flies anyway because bees don’t care what humans think is possible.”

“Because bees can do the impossible, we can too,” Hassan later said.

Hassan reflected on memorable moments for the senior class, from watching the men’s and women’s basketball teams “bust Obama’s brackets” to overcoming challenging classes and internships.

“After today, we can get paid to solve problems rather than pay Duke to assign us more problems,” Hassan said to laughs from attendees.

Hassan concluded her remarks by reminding students that after graduating, they can “design [their] own syllabus.”

“Now we can decide what we learn, from how to cook outside of a dorm to how to solve climate change or global conflicts,” she said. 

In her speech, Thompson reflected on the diverse experiences of graduate students. 

“Many were asked to set aside their alma maters and make room in their hearts to cheer on a new basketball team,” she said. “Others, like myself, traded in the comfort of our West Campus dorms for a chance to discover what it truly means to be a Durhamite.”

Thompson also recognized the students who left their home countries to attend graduate school at Duke, sharing that “... no matter the paths we took to get here, Duke became a special place for all of us.”

She conveyed her “immense gratitude” to friends, faculty and alumni who supported students on their journey to graduate.

“Most of all, I am grateful for this place that has propelled each of us one step closer to achieving our dreams,” Thompson said.

Thompson shared that one of her dreams had now been realized: to have her parents watch as she — a first-generation college student — received two graduate degrees from an “esteemed university” like Duke.

“So as we continue on to the next chapter of our lives, let us be grateful for the time we shared at Duke, whether it was just a year or — in my case — nearly a decade,” Thompson said. “Let that gratitude carry us forward in the work we will do.”


Michael Austin profile
Michael Austin | Managing Editor

Michael Austin is a Trinity sophomore and managing editor of The Chronicle's 120th volume.

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