UW Honors Graduation Address

by Charmila Ajmera, Honors class of 2011

Charmila Ajmera, class of 2011
Charmila Ajmera, Honors class of 2011
Photo credit: Honors Staff.

As Jim mentioned and as many of you know, I work in the Honors Office in Mary Gates Hall. I am indeed in there quite often and am never quite so vividly reminded of that as when people have trouble recognizing me without a desk in front of me. In any case, working in the Honors office has given me the unique opportunity to see how this program operates from the inside-out. This privilege has made me truly appreciate the amount of thought, passion, dedication and devotion that goes into crafting an education and even more so it has made me realize exactly what it takes to get a good one.

Honors Programs are a fairly recent phenomenon. They were formed as a response to the burgeoning number of students who began attending college after WWII and as Jim so often reminds us, because of Sputnik - we wanted our best and brightest in close proximity to one another so that we could stay on top of the Russians... but since the '50s, Honors Programs have evolved. They are often viewed as elite institutions, especially within the larger communities that they are a part of. In fact, I remember that when I was applying to this Program my senior year of high school, one of the essay prompts was about whether I considered the UW Honors Program to be an elitist institution. At the time, I said no - and while this was probably because I thought that this response was the most likely to get me accepted into the program - surprisingly, four years later I would still say the same. Far from instilling a sense of entitlement, privilege or superiority I have found that this program, and the people in it, embody the humility and humanity of what an education should be.

Working at the front desk, I have spent countless hours talking to prospective applicants and incoming freshman and their parents about this program and about the UW, trying to convince them that this is the right place for them. They ask me, 'What is the benefit of an honors education? Will it help me get into graduate school or med school? Will it help me get a job?" - and while these are all legitimate questions, the answer I always give is that "The honors program is about more than where it gets you next - it's about taking ownership of your education and taking advantage of what that means. If all you care about is what it will look like on a resume, this might not be the place for you" - because as I have come to understand, as I am sure all of you have as well, we place more value on the process of getting an honors degree rather than the end product itself. Cliché as it is, it really is the journey that matters and not the destination.

It's easy to boil down a college experience to tests, papers, grades and all-nighters - to a GPA and a notation on a diploma. But as I have come to realize, college was never really about any of that stuff anyways - school, an education is so much more than the numerical values we attach to it. The only thing that gives any of it meaning, that makes any of it worthwhile, is people. The most valuable thing I am taking away from these four years is not my diploma of my transcript but the relationships that I have formed here.

Because, as I am so often reminded, the greatest lessons in life do not come from textbooks, lectures or labs. The real lessons, the real knowledge that we gain, we gain from one another. When I look back and try to remember the all-night cram sessions or the group projects that seemed to cause the most stress, I honestly could not tell you what grades I received. What I do remember is sitting with my classmates in the hallway of McCarty Hall until 3AM eating junk food and getting noise violations because we were laughing so hard. What I do remember is finding people to talk to who cared about the content of what we were learning together as much as I did - who are passionate about what they are studying and what they can do with it. What I do remember are the friendships that came out of these classes and the people who added tangibility to what used to seem so distant. We can learn about the world through intermediaries - through the best professors and the most detailed textbooks - but my greatest teachers over these past four years - were all of you.

I am truly amazed by the individuals sitting in this room, by what you have accomplished and what you are going on to do. You all inspire me with your commitment, compassion and creativity and I am so honored to be a part of this graduating class. We have so much to offer one another. We challenge each other's world views, push each other to do better, try harder, learn more and in the process we teach each other, inspire one another. This - we - are the heart and soul of this program. Not each of us individually, but the space in between, our relationships with one another - our attempts to share something, learn something, build something together. I am honored to know all of you and I am thrilled to see where life will take us next.

Thank you.

Charmila Ajmera
B.A. in International Studies with College Honors
Class of 2011