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Friends Tout Perseverance in Graduation Speech

Friends Tout Perseverance in Graduation SpeechFor the first time, two graduating seniors will present a joint speech, “Moment for Life,” at the 62nd Annual University of St. Thomas Commencement on Saturday, May 12 at Reliant Arena, One Reliant Park. Nicole Hickl and Priyam Shah opted to present a speech together because they had similar messages to share about perseverance and because of their friendship formed at St. Thomas.

Inspired by others she knew who had taken on the challenge, Hickl confided to her friend Shah that she wanted to apply to be the graduation speaker, and discovered Shah had the same idea.

“I thought, ‘You’re the one person I do not want to apply,’” Hickl said. “We’re so used to working together; I didn’t want to compete against her.”

Hickl and Priyam met as freshmen communication majors, taking many of the same classes. “Being educated together for four years, we’re very alike. We even write alike,” she said.

Priyam ShahShah said the two decided to write their speeches individually. “When we recited them to each other, we realized they were similar,” Shah said. “We took aspects of hers and aspects of mine and it turned out to be a surprisingly well-composed story.”

The committee also liked the message of their speech.

“Nicole and Priyam were selected because their combined speech was dynamic and its message could resonate with all the graduates,” said Livia Bornigia, assistant professor of communication and a member of the selection committee. “This is the first time we will have a joint speech, and the committee thought they presented it very well.”

Hickl and Shaw’s speech is about resilience. “It doesn’t matter how many times you fall, as long as you know where you want to be and how to get there,” Shah said.

Hickl said the students all have their own stories at the University, but they will share the same story on graduation day – starting a new chapter of their lives.

“We will say, when you start writing your story, write it in pen, not pencil,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to take risks.”
While the two speakers are similar in many ways, they are different in how they first approached the college experience.
Hickl was a conditionally-admitted student, but she made a concerted effort to do well in college.

“I think whenever you fail or are not as good at something, it pushes you to do better,” Hickl said. “I saw college as my second chance. College erases what I did in high school, and I really took the opportunity.”

Nicole HicklHickl has also taken advantage of other opportunities, earning the title Miss Black Teen Texas USA 2009, and working as a cheerleader for the Houston Aeros and two seasons with the Houston Texans. She also interned at two Houston news stations. On campus, Hickl has been elected four years to the Student Government Association, as a senator and the vice president. She also welcomes prospective students to UST as the president of Presidential Ambassadors.

For Shah, it took some time to apply the same focus to school, while she worked during the first two years of college, in part striving for autonomy from her family.

“The first two years of college, I was a rebel,” she said. “I wanted my independence.”

Now, Shah says she and her mother have a better relationship than ever. As a surprise to her mother, she is keeping her role as student commencement speaker a secret.

“I don’t want her to have any clue until I walk on stage,” Shah said. “My mother raised me single-handedly after my parents divorced, and she never went to college. It’s going to be a really big honor for her, probably more so than me.”

Shah joined the Pre-Health Professions Society, Tri-Beta club, Health Occupation Students of America and participated in volunteer activities at UST.

“It reaffirmed my decision to go into medicine,” Shah said, and she is taking the MCAT test and applying to medical school this summer.

Hickl recently accepted a position as a weekend anchor and reporter at KAVU in Victoria, Texas. “I want to be the Oprah of my generation,” Hickl said. “She started out as a reporter, too.”

And in the words of Oprah Winfrey, Hickl will encourage others at graduation: “This is your moment, own it.”

As for the two friends, Shah said it’s one of those relationships that you can put on hold if life gets too hectic, but you can pick up right where you left off.

“Everything is so competitive,” Shah said. “We wanted to start the next chapter of our lives on a note of unity.”