Senior Recognition Speech
Thursday, May 7, 2020
Thursday, May 7, 2020
Yashika Issrani is a senior English major. When asked why she picked her major, she said, "I am an English major because I want to be a lawyer and I am confident that the English major can prepare me for a rigorous career in law. I wasn’t confident of it at first because of the lingering fear of “what will you do with that major,” but being in the major has allowed me to appreciate the versatility of the major. Moreover, the major has been an integration of all my interests and passions. The best part about the major is that you discover your identity and voice as a writer. I learned that I am not a creative writer. While I appreciate reading creative pieces, I am not the creator of such. Formal and professional writing is my style."
Thank you. It is an absolute honor and delight to deliver this speech, recognizing and celebrating the accomplishments of our brilliant English majors. While this might not be what we imagined this day to look like, I am grateful for everyone who worked tirelessly towards putting together some sort of celebration under the current circumstances. Thank you for being creative and innovative in your efforts.
I’d like to start by acknowledging the whirlwind of emotions all of us have been through these past two months. It is an understatement to say that it has been a difficult time, due to financial hardships, academic stress, health concerns and other things that I couldn’t fathom. The most difficult thing, I imagine, is coming to terms with the situation. “This cannot be,” is probably a thought that has run through our minds during this time, for a multitude of reasons. I want to extend my best wishes for those who are unwell, taking care of someone who is unwell, or have lost a loved one. I wish you and your loved ones health and safety during this time.
On the very day I decided to commit to UMass Amherst, I imagined myself in my cap and gown on graduation. I was very excited to finally experience that moment on May 8th. Alas, we have been robbed of that experience –momentarily, at least. This feels unreal, like some cruel plot twist of a novel, an abrupt ending. It hurts to have the last chapter of college ripped out without any warning. This ending is certainly not a part of the predictable plot we had curated for ourselves. Nonetheless, there is no point in dwelling on something we simply cannot change.
Instead, I would like to think that we are actually uniquely equipped as English majors. We are well equipped with a plethora of possibilities to explore to during this emotionally charged situation. We may have finally gotten the chance to catch up on some leisure reading. I’m sure we all have that one book we’ve been dying to read. I hope you took this time to do exactly that! Maybe this time allowed some of us to finally set aside time to work on personal pieces, perhaps a novel or poetry book in progress – just something that isn’t for school. Maybe some of us wrote about our experience during quarantine, as writing can be really cathartic and may have provided the very relief you were seeking. Maybe some of us just needed to pause and take a break from long hours of reading and writing. Some additional hours of sleep never hurt. I hope you achieved whatever your curious and intelligent mind sought during this time. I hope you got the emotional support and relief you needed during this time.
Now, I want to shift our focus to reminiscing our beautiful journey as undergraduate English majors at UMass Amherst. I want to remind you all that we, the class of 2020, started off in crusty, old Bartlett in freshman year and were fortunate enough to experience the transition to the most beautiful and aesthetically pleasing building on campus, South College, that became our home for the years to come. I’m sure many of us have spent an ungodly amount of time in South College whether it was for back-to-back classes, picking on our professors’ brains during office hours, studying in the beautiful atrium or the West Commons upstairs, attending college/departmental events and so forth. That is something I’m definitely not complaining about. I hold South College near and dear to my heart, not only because of its beauty, but also because of all that I have learned and encountered within the rustic, brick walls of South College.
My classes have provided me with a very holistic education as I have encountered and connected material from various disciplines including political science, economics, psychology and so forth. I’ve taken a class on Environmental Humanities. I’ve taken a class on Data Science in the humanities. I’ve taken a class on Narrative Medicine and how writing can heal. I’ve taken classes that focuses on the historical context of marginalized groups. I’ve taken classes on documentation and design where I even learned about Helvetica in one of my classes – yes, the font. Never would I have imagined an intersection between the English major and these other subject areas. This experience has informed my view that the English major is an integration of a plethora of topics and can apply to many career paths. We have never been more relevant as we are now.
South college is also home to me because of the big, happy family I have there. I have made friends with many English majors, partly because I’ve seen them in more than one class I’ve taken – but again, I’m not complaining. That’s also something I loved about the major. Walking into a new class on the first day, it was always so comforting to see a familiar face. We progressed from small talk to class discussions to peer reviews to sharing frustrations on the book/software to ranting about random things before the beginning of class – from classmates to close friends. A special shout out to my PWTC family, with whom I’ve spent significant hours of my day in the lab. I am also really grateful for the professors I’ve grown close to. I have always taken advantage of office hours and I am so glad I did. What would start as a review of my work would turn into a fun conversation about dogs. I feel like I’ve established a close enough relationship with a lot of my professors where they wouldn’t mind going off on tangents like that. I am thankful for these very professors for helping me grow as a writer and as a person. I am really thankful for everyone in the English Department. Wherever I turn to, there is always a friendly, welcoming smile.
I also think that South College is reflective of our personalities as English majors. On the surface level, we are viewed as antiquated and outliers in contemporary society. If I received a penny for every time someone asked me, “What will you do with the major,” I’d be filthy rich! However, once they see what’s on the inside and get to know us, they realize how creative and innovative we are. They are surprised by our ability to adapt to an evolving environment. They are impressed with our versatility. Thanks to the contractors for the renovation of South College and thanks to the English Department for constantly renovating the major. Thank you for the new additions to the major, including new classes, new professors, and new specializations that challenge our thoughts and help us find our niche. Thank you for helping us defy the stereotypes of the English major and for helping us build a stronger future. Thank you for all the connections you have fostered. Needless to say, while some of us may have dipped our toes with other majors or minors, myself included, the English major will always be our home.