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Faith Paves the Way for Commencement Speaker

Daily Mass, weekly confession, crucifixes in classrooms, a devotion to Mary and a quick prayer before a test are what many non-Catholics might experience and observe when attending a Catholic school for the first time. None of that is difficult to understand for Alizeh Yusuf, as she attended a Catholic convent for girls all throughout elementary school.

Yusuf, however, is not Catholic. She is Muslim, with a great understanding of the Catholic faith, and she is the 2014 student Commencement Speaker.

On May 17, 2014, Yusuf will address 298 undergraduate and 739 graduate students with her speech, “Taking Our Story Beyond UST” at 10 a.m. in Reliant Stadium, One Reliant Park.

 “This is such an amazing and great opportunity, and I’m very excited,” Yusuf said. “It’s just the perfect culmination to my UST experience to be able to talk about with everyone on the day that we graduate.”

A Welcoming Environment for All

Yusuf chose the University of St. Thomas because the campus reminded her of the Catholic convent in Karachi, Pakistan, where Yusuf was raised, although she was born in Houston. Her appreciation and familiarity with the Catholic faith also contributed to her decision to stay with UST.

“People would say, ‘Oh no you’re Muslim, why would you go there?’ But growing up, Jesus and Mary were everywhere, and I’ve always been close to the Catholic faith,” Yusuf said.  “It was just a comforting feeling, and you want to go to someplace that you would feel nurtured in, not just go there and come back. I felt like I would get that nurturing at UST.”

Faith, science, people and love are four things most people would never associate with one place. But for Yusuf, these four things are what inspire her to work hard every day and strive for greatness.

Yusuf is one of the founders of the Interfaith Council, a club that seeks to facilitate interfaith dialogue, understanding and exposure to different faiths. 

"There is a huge similarity between Islam and Catholicism that often times many people don’t see because we’re taught to look at differences," Yusuf said. “That is why starting the Interfaith Council was important to me. We ultimately all have the same goals, to lead a good life without sin and believe in God.”

A Servant Leader’s Heart for Others  

Life after graduation may seem like a daunting time, but Yusuf hopes to alleviate some fear and instill hope to her fellow peers with her speech. The speech will focus on the diversity in the UST community, along with the philanthropy and altruism of the students at UST.

“Students here really go out of their way to do volunteer stuff and fundraisers for various causes,” Yusuf said. “It’s really wonderful to see that different kinds of people can put aside their differences, come together and work for something good in the community. That’s something that we really need in the world today.”

As a biology and international studies joint major, Yusuf hopes to take all she’s learned at the University of St. Thomas and apply it to the real world, as either a doctor with Doctors without Borders or as a member of an international organization, such as the United Nations or the World Health Organization.

“I grew up in Pakistan and then moved to Houston so I’ve always wanted to work in an international setting,” Yusuf said. “I want to integrate medicine with international affairs because I think it’s important to learn not only the science of medicine, but also the science of people.”

The Best is Yet To Come

Yusuf is filled with mixed emotions as she ends the year, excitement tinged with bitter sweetness as she leaves the place she called home for so long. She’ll miss the University a lot, but hopes that the students who come after her will have the same experiences she did, if not better.

When Yusuf stands in front of her peers on May 17, amidst all the chaos, nerves and excitement, there is one thing that she hopes people take away from her speech and experience.

“Whatever you have accomplished here, continue it on,” Yusuf said. “Whatever you do, whatever field you go in to, make sure you do it so well that when other people follow in your footsteps, they can do so without regret. This is not the end.”