It took two flights, 14 hours, and 6,200 miles to arrive from Damascus, Syria to Chicago, IL

Omar Alhaj Ibrahim was selected as the student speaker during the Armour College of Engineering commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 13, 2017.  Omar is the third student who participated in the IIT Syrian Student Initiative to be selected as a student speaker.

Below see Omar give his speech (starting at minute 28:20) and/or read the transcript.

“Dear Dean DePaola, faculty, staff, honored guests, parents, family, friends, and most importantly the GRADUATING class of 2017, good afternoon. We are finally here! I am so honored and excited to be here today to speak on behalf of the class of 2017 on this monumental day of our lives.

My name is Omar Alhaj Ibrahim, and I will be graduating today with a biomedical engineering degree. But really, today, I will be graduating with a couple of life lessons, countless memories, and an experience of a lifetime. The time we’ve spent together at Illinois Tech has been filled with challenges, heartbreaks, laughs, friendships, and achievements. Today we are celebrating our greatest achievement yet. Graduating from the Armour College of Engineering. I am sure many of you remember the first day you started your journey at Illinois Tech. Some of you had to drive to campus, many had to fly from different states, countries, and continents – but the anticipation of a great journey was the same for many of us. I personally remember my first day at IIT and how I got here like it was yesterday. It took two flights, 14 hours and 6,200 miles to arrive all the way from Damascus, Syria to Chicago, IL. It was an incredible journey taken on a completely unexpected path.

Growing up in Syria during a time of turmoil and a civil war, I thought I would miss out on the opportunity of receiving a higher education, or to even be admitted at a renowned institution like Illinois Tech all the way in the US and so far away from home. It was a challenging time in my home country, but it is with the help of Jusoor, an incredible organization that aimed to support Syrian students and Syria’s development, the help of generous individuals who believed in the value of education, the IIT Syrian initiative program, and the Leadership Academy that I am standing here on this stage in front of you today. Illinois Tech became my home. In some capacity it became all of our home! As challenging as that journey was to arrive to Chicago, the education, the student life, and experience that I received from IIT these past 4 years have made it a journey worth taking.  

Starting life at Illinois Tech and having it become a reality happened to me very fast. I started in the spring semester, and so naturally the first thing I experienced was a phenomenon called “the polar vortex” and wind chill at temperatures so low I didn’t think they even existed.

But aside [from] the cold weather that Chicago threw at us or the all-nighters we spent working on differential equations, electrical circuits, or transport phenomena, we created ideas here at Armour. Ideas, unique to engineers, charged by creativity, hard work, and passion to make a difference and influence campus and the global community. Because of Armour, we went beyond borders to develop sustainable solutions, built chemical and electrical cars powered by collaborations, launched pumpkins across this very field using engineering trebuchets, and built canoes and bridges that carried innovation and determination. Many programs such as Engineering Themes and Armour R&D helped many of us expand our normal engineering curriculum. It seemed that however challenging the problem was and how crazy the solution seemed, we kept thinking and we kept going. We’ve become engineers that have the power to take our complex degrees and positively impact our shared global society.

Armour College made us stronger, enabled us to push our limits, and encouraged us to get involved in things we never thought we would be a part of.  Thanks to Armour, I have jumped from an airplane, built 2 houses with Habitat for Humanity, spent 10 days in Lima, Peru helping communities in need get access to healthcare through IIT MEDLIFE, conducted breast cancer research with Armour R&D, and had the opportunity to meet and learn with people from more than 20 countries who have changed my life and made these past 4 years wonderful. These people were there for me when I went through hardships and heartbreaks and were there when I got my first internship and my first job offer. Whether it was a student organization that let us discover what we’re passionate about, a professor who challenged us to think beyond the classroom and discover our full potential, a brother and sister in a fraternity or sorority who inspired us to try our hardest to succeed, or teammates and coaches who told us to never give up – we changed during our time here, and we became better people for it.

The theme of our time during college included overcoming the uncertainties that life can bring, and showed us that determination and support we received from Armour College and our loved ones stands stronger than any downfalls we might face. Without them we wouldn’t be here today. We learned that we can’t do it alone, and that often solutions to our problems are right in front of us if we are encouraged to step up and take advantage of opportunities, and reach out to others similar or even different from us. And so today, on our commencement day, I encourage you to take a chance to thank your professors. Thank your lab partners, friends, faculty, staff, mom, dad, brother, sister, or anyone who helped you get closer to today. Never forget the inspiration and experiences you have gained from Armour College, stay engaged as an alumni and help younger generations of engineers.  

As I begin my next journey as a consultant at Microsoft, I look back on all the opportunities, memories, and lessons that Illinois Tech has given me and feel blessed to have taken this unexpected path.  We are finally here. Today is our commencement ceremony, and commencement means a new start. A new beginning, and a new challenge. Yes, change is coming our way, but like Armour had taught us, change is inevitable. It’s about how we deal with it, how we overcome obstacles, work with others, and have fun along the way; that’s when we thrive and change the future. Class of 2017 and my fellow engineers, enjoy the next challenge and the next adventure of your life. I wish you all the best. Thank you.”

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