Two QuestBridge Students Voted PO Graduation Speakers

The Pomona College Class of 2016 voted for Muhammad Jalal PO '16 as its Class Day speaker and Ashley Land PO '16 as its Commencement speaker. Jalal will speak on May 14, while Land will speak on May 15.

Jalal is a Molecular Biology major from Houston, TX, and Land is a Media Studies major from Chicago, IL. Both are deeply involved in QuestBridge, presiding over Pomona’s chapter.

Class Day is more intimate, while Commencement is a more public event. Jalal said that Class Day allows for reflection on the students’ years at Pomona and what has brought them to where they are today.

“That is what Class Day is and what I would want to keep in mind while writing…who has got us here, how we’ve moved forward since running on the first day through those gates,” Jalal said. “On orientation you run through the gates, ready for your journey through Pomona—on Class Day you run back.”

Land said that the Commencement speakers “serve a greater purpose to like leave a legacy of the class, and what I said to my class is that I feel like our class embodies community, social activism, daringness in the classroom and outside of the classroom.”

According to Jalal, he was not originally planning on running for Class Day speaker. He was worried that he could not be a representative voice for the whole class. However, people he talked to encouraged him to run.

They advised him, “There is no representative voice, but there are people who can help bring representation because they see it more clearly. You are one of them, you see the best in people in our class—who better to speak?” he said.  

Still, he was not convinced until he spoke to Pomona politics professor Susan McWilliams. She said that a student who had never talked in class gave her Commencement speech, and that it was among most moving talks she has ever heard.

“What Professor McWilliams said really reminded me of the importance of hearing the voices of people who don’t traditionally speak up. It moved me and it was a powerful thing to hear and ultimately convinced me to run for class day speaker,” Jalal said.

Land said that the community she found at Pomona was the main reason she ran for Commencement speaker. She expressed her love for the class and her friends and her desire to deliver a speech that spoke to the class.

“I think I decided to run for Commencement speaker because I really have been able to grow and change my perspectives while being a Pomona student. I’m from Chicago, and I’m a QuestBridge student, so I am a low-income, first-generation student. So I feel like I came to Pomona really unsure of myself and my identity, and how did that work with being Black, with being a Black woman,” Land said.

Jalal and Land have been thinking about themes and issues they hope to address in their speeches.

Though Jalal said, “I haven’t written the speech out yet. I’m still in the process of thinking about an approach,” he noted, “People who have overcome a lot, treated others with kindness, and given them a lot of hope are not necessarily recognized in merit or accomplishment based venues, but these are aspects that make the class cohesive and tight-knit.”

Land said that she feels as though she should discuss a few of the issues she has seen at Pomona, though keeping in mind that it is a celebratory day.

Land said, “I definitely want to talk about community, but I also want to talk about how, when marginalized groups are being oppressed, they can find community with each other, because I feel like I was able to do that, but that could change.” She has not yet written her speech.

She said that Pomona College has made her more aware of social issues, something a lot of the class can resonate with, and she might discuss this as well.

Erick Velasquez PO ’16 voted for Jalal and Land as senior speakers and discussed why he believes they are strong spokespeople for the Class of 2016.

“They love to see the best qualities in people and take those qualities and see what else you can do it,” Velasquez said. “That encompasses a lot of what I’d like to see of a representative of the class, someone who you know sees the best qualities in everyone and is able to build them up.”

He also emphasized their contributions to Pomona’s QuestBridge chapter.

“Muhammad was the biggest person at getting everyone to the same page of what his mission of Quest was and getting Quest up and running, and Ashley has been a big person in these past couple years of leadership at Quest,” he said. “Both have qualities of seeing groups that they identify with succeed—that shows selflessness, that you can put so much time and effort into a cause that you feel for.”

On his speech and Class Day in general, Jalal said, “This is ultimately about appreciation, honoring people who don’t really get recognized.”  He also mentioned the numerous people, from professors to housekeeping to families, who help mold a class.

Land said, “I’m very honored to be able to do it. When I told my mom, she literally hung up the phone and was like, 'You’re not serious.' Because it’s just so unexpected. Like really I’m from the south side of Chicago, not the best neighborhood. Who would’ve thought I’d be speaking at like graduation, people would want to hear the words that I have to say.”

“I just want do a good job. I’m so proud of me and Muhammad, because Muhammad is one of my close friends and I know he’s going to do a great job,” Land said.

Velasquez mentioned his anticipation for graduation day.

“For me, as a first generation student and a low income student, I’ve been visualizing graduating college for such a long time, since the start of middle school when I first found out what college is,” he said.

“My emotions for it are very happy and excited, and I’m also happy and excited to see what they’re going to say,” Velasquez added. “I feel like their message is going to be more like unifying people together and kind of like bringing the class together, which Pomona really needs.”

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