Student Speaker: Ndeye Guisse

Ndeye Guisse

Good evening faculty, family, friends, and most importantly my fellow graduates.

I am honored to stand before you today to share this memorable and exciting experience with you all.

Today I want to talk about initiative. I want to talk about never taking no for an answer. I want to talk about falling down and knowing that you simply don’t belong down there. When you want something, you do what you have to do to make it happen. As cliche as this sounds, it is exactly how I have tried to live my life for the past 22 years - both academically and personally.... Initiative is not only for yourself but also for your community and your peers.

Recently I watched one of the most inspirational films I had seen in a while called Hidden Figures. For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, it is about three African American women who were working for NASA in the 1950’s and ultimately played integral roles in helping the United States win the space race against the Soviet Union.

One of the scenes that struck me the most was centered around Mary Jackson, who at the time was working under some of NASA’s engineers and dreamed of being promoted to the role of “engineer.” She learned that in order to do so, she was required to take additional graduate level courses in math and physics.

Being it was the 1950’s, schools were still segregated and the “coloured-only” schools did not provide these courses. Mary was forced to submit a petition to the City of Hampton, Virginia to allow her to take the courses at Hampton High School - a local “all-white” school.

She went before the judge and used emotional appeal by referencing the judge’s accomplishments as the first in his family to serve in the Armed Forces or attend university. She continued to mention how he was the first State Judge to be re-commissioned by three consecutive Governors. She stressed the importance of being the “first” and how since she could not change the color of her skin, she had no option but to be the first.

After some convincing before the judge, she was granted night classes at the high school. As a mother with a full time job, I’m sure this was not an easy task. When she began classes, not only was she the only African American in the room but she was also the only woman. She assumed her seat in the front row and went on to become NASA’s first female African American engineer.

Mary’s story resonated with me because even with all the hoops she was forced to jump through, she still made her vision a reality. She knew she had more potential and she was determined to tap into it. She was not a victim of her circumstances. She did her research so she was prepared when she walked into the courtroom, she had a plan, and she executed it…. She took initiative.

As a minority student at Miami University, I can confidently say that I have never felt restricted from opportunity. In fact, the opposite is true. Through the support and mentorship we have received from faculty and staff and the amazing friends we have made in these past four years, we have been able to flourish in many more ways than one. I think many of you, my fellow graduates, can agree with that statement. Many of us have had the chance to study abroad to unfamiliar corners of the world.

I was lucky enough to travel to India with Dr. Lalvani and several other students and immersed myself in a culture that exposed me to new people, new ideas, and new ways of thinking. Let’s not forget the loads of naan and chicken tikka masala that we consumed. I can’t count how many times I’ve been able to increase my self-awareness through the Lockheed Martin Leadership Institute whether it be by way of Myers-Briggs personality type assessments or learning about the importance of teamwork dynamics.

Cohort 4, these last three years with you all have been more than memorable and I will not forget the pact we made to each other to go to Goa in a few years. I’m holding you to it! I remember walking in nervous about the program and now I walk out with one of my best friends, Korey Smith, and a boatload of skills I can take out into the world.

As member and president of the National Society of Black Engineers, I had the opportunity to lead a group of amazingly gifted and driven individuals who ultimately taught me more about myself than I could ever do for them. From the cross-country trips to our annual conventions, to the resume workshops, to the community service - NSBE gave me a place where I felt I could not only be myself but I could also push myself, something that we have all experienced as student leaders on campus. We all have these experiences that allowed us to grow not only as students but also as individuals.

Of course there is always that internal voice of self doubt that rears its head every now and then. You know, that same voice you hear when facing a completely new circuits problem or after you walk out of a Dr. Kerr’s lecture on biological transport phenomena. Or that voice you hear when you realize you are the only woman, African American, Asian, or software engineer in your engineering or computing class. This voice is always replaced, however, by one of reassurance when we prove to ourselves that we indeed can do what we put our minds to. At Miami , we can confidently say that our wins have heavily outweighed our losses - even if it didn’t feel that way during finals week!

We have learned to take initiative for ourselves to propel us towards our goals but something that Miami has taught us to do is take initiative for our community and our peers…. Ideally people of all race, gender, or social class should be able to become an engineer, computer scientist, physician, or researcher in today’s world. As we all know, however, the numbers do not tell that same story.

Initiative is about making the conscious effort to impact the lives of those near and far who do not have the same opportunities that are granted to us here through the excellent education and support at Miami University. As we all leave Miami today we must remember those who made it a priority to help us along our journey. Remember those students who spent the extra hour explaining a concept to you the night before a big exam. Remember the mentors who helped you perfect your resume and your networking skills.

Remember the faculty and staff who went the extra mile for us every day by writing recommendation letters and guiding us through research projects. Remember the members of the community who shared their knowledge with us and forced us to be in new and maybe uncomfortable situations from which we could grow. Clark, thank you for your support and insights all the way from the realm of leadership in NSBE to my own personal development.

Remember your family for their unconditional support. I cannot thank my mom and dad enough for the unwavering love, encouragement, and advice they have given me ever since I was a little girl. Remember these people but also be one of them after graduating.

Make it a point to be a part of something bigger than yourself. Whether you’re the “first” like Mary Jackson or you reach new heights in your own way, do not be scared to try new things. Remember no matter how far you go, it means a great deal more if you lift others as you rise.

Thank you.