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Commencement Speech by University Medalist Fadia Rafeedie
10 May 2000

"Thank you, that was way too generous, Chancellor Berdahl. It makes me sound a lot better than I am.

And uh, you know I just feel... I had a speech and it's right here. It took me so long to draft it and I kept re-drafting it, and this morning I changed it again, but I'm just going to put it to the side and I'm going to talk from my heart because what I witnessed here today, I have mixed feelings about.

I don't know why I'm up here articulating the viewpoints of a lot of my comrades out there who were arrested, and not them. It's not because I got straight A's or maybe it is. Maybe that's the way the power structure works, but I'm very fortunate to be able to give them a voice. I think that's what I'm going to do, so if you give me your attention, I'd really appreciate it.

I was hoping to speak before Secretary Albright, but that was also a reflection of the power structure, I think, to sort of change things around and make it difficult for people who are ready to articulate their voice in ways they don't usually get a chance to.

So I'm going to improvise, and I'm going to mention some things that she didn't mention at all in her speech but which most of the protesters were actually talking about. You know, I think it's really easy for us to feel sorry for her, and I was looking at my grandmothers who are actually in the audience - my grandmother and her sister - who weren't really happy with all the protesters, and I think they thought that wasn't really respectful of them, and a lot of you didn't, I don't think, because you came to hear [Secretary Albright] speak.

But I think what the protesters did was not embarrass our university. I think they dignified it.

Because Secretary Albright didn't even mention Iraq, and that's what they were here to listen to. And I think sometimes NOT saying things - not mentioning things - is actually lying about them.

And what I was going to tell her while she was sitting on the stage with me, I was going to remind her and I was going to remind you that four years ago from this Friday when we were freshmen, I heard her on 60 Minutes talking to a reporter who had just returned from Iraq.

The reporter was describing that a million children were dying [died] due to the sanctions that this country was imposing on the people of Iraq. And she told her, listen, "that's more... children than have died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Do you think the price is worth it?" [Albright] looked into the camera and she said, "the price is worth it."

And I was going to tell her, "do you really think the price is worth it??!" Since that time, 3 times that number of people have died in Iraq.

I mean, we're about 5,000 here today. Next month by the time we graduate, that's as many people who are going to die in Iraq because of the sanctions. This is what House Minority Whip David Boniors calls 'infanticide masquerading as policy.'

Now, I don't want to make the mood somber here because this is our commencement, but commencement means beginning, and I think it's important for us to begin where civilization itself began, and where it's now being destroyed.

Let me talk to you a little bit more about the sanctions, because I think it's very important. Now, I'm a Palestinian, I would really love to talk about the struggle for the liberation of my country, and to talk about a whole bunch of other things and I see some people maybe rolling their eyes, and other people nodding. These are controversial issues, but I need to speak about Iraq because I think what's happening there is a genocide. It's another holocaust.

And I'm a history major, and sometimes I look back at history and I see things like the slave trade, the Holocaust, you know, I see, I see people dropping atomic bombs and not thinking what the ramifications are, and I don't want us to think about Iraq that way. It's already a little too late because 2.5 million people have died and yet these sanctions continue.

For the last 10 years, you wouldn't imagine the kinds of things that aren't being let into this country: heart machines, lung machines, needles, infrastructural parts to build the economy. Even cancer patients, sometimes some of the medicine will be let in, but not ALL of the medicine.

It's very strategic what's let in at what time, because what it does is it prolongs life, but it doesn't save it.

In Iraq, they clean the hospital floors with gasoline because detergent isn't even allowed in because of the sanctions.

These are all United States policies.

And Secretary Albright - I have no conflict with her as an individual... I don't happen to respect her, but she belongs to a larger power structure. She's a symbol.

And when the protesters are protesting, it's not because they want to pick a fight with the woman who many of you happen to love.

In fact, she was... she was introduced as the 'greatest woman of our times.' Now see, to me that's an insult. This woman is doing HORRIBLE things.

She's allowing innocent people to suffer and to die.

Iraq used to be the country in the Arab World that had the best medical services and social services for its people, and now look at it. It's, it's being obliterated.

And a lot of times you might hear it's because of Saddam Hussein and I'd like to talk a little bit about that. He's a brutal dictator - I agree with her, and I agree with many of you. But again, I'm a history major, and history means origins. It means beginnings. We need to see who's responsible for how strong Saddam Hussein has gotten.

When he was gassing the Kurds, he was gassing them using chemical weapons that were manufactured in Rochester, New York.

And when he was fighting a long and protracted war with Iran, where 1 million people died, it was the CIA that was funding him. It was U.S. policy that built this dictator. When they didn't need him, they started imposing sanctions on his people. Sanctions - or any kind of policy - should be directed at people's governments, not at the people.

The cancer rate in Iraq has risen by over 70 percent since the Gulf War. The children who are dying from these malicious cancers and diseases, they weren't born when the Gulf War happened.

The reason that the cancer rate is so high is because every other day our country is bombing Iraq still. We're still at war with them. They have no nuclear capabilities. In fact, just last week, the United Nations inspectors found [again] that Iraq has no nuclear capabilities and yet we are bombing them every other day with depleted uranium. And what this does is it releases a gas that the people breathe. It's making them ill, and they're dying and they don't have medicine.

I saw some of my friends, even, being arrested here today. One of them was Lillian. Her aunt made a documentary about this depleted uranium, and it showed that it's being mined by Native American populations in the United States. They're getting sick. Their children are getting sick. And that depleted uranium is going from here, to our military, to Iraq, and it's decimating populations. This is a big deal.

And I'm embarrassed that I don't even get to talk about Colombia, because I saw a few signs about that, too. And my colleague here, Darren Noy, who's also a Finalist, is very interested in these issues. We don't stand alone. I'm on stage with allies, I'm looking out at allies, we need allies, my allies have been taken away.

But in general, I mean, I'm speaking to a crowd that gave a standing ovation to the woman who typifies everything against which I stand, and I'm still telling you this because I think it's important to understand.

And I think, that if I achieve nothing else, if this makes you think a little bit about Iraq, think a little bit about US foreign policy, I've succeeded.

I don't want to take too much of your time, but I want to end my speech with a slogan that hangs over my bed in Arabic. It says, "La tastaw Hishu tareeq el-Haq, min qilit es-sa'ireen fihi" and that translates into, "Fear not the path of truth for the lack of people walking on it." I think our future is going to be the future of truth, and we're going to walk on that path, and we're going to fill it with travelers.

Thank you very much."


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