Samia Saleem wearing a black hijab and a dark blue blouse with white lines forming squares.
Samia Saleem, a psychology major, will be the student speaker on Saturday at VCU's spring commencement. (Photo by Kevin Morley, University Marketing.)

Class of 2022: Samia Saleem selected as VCU’s student speaker for commencement

Saleem plans to celebrate her classmates’ resilience and remind them that each new day is “an opportunity to try again.”

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Like all of her classmates in the class of 2022, Samia Saleem’s time at Virginia Commonwealth University was disrupted by the pandemic. “I was a sophomore when the pandemic hit and we went home,” she said. “And I was a senior when we came back.”

The pandemic required Saleem and her classmates to adapt and stay persistent in pursuit of their academic and professional goals.

On Saturday, Saleem will deliver the student address at VCU’s spring commencement. She plans to celebrate her classmates’ resilience and encourage them to keep that mindset as they embark on their post-graduation journeys.

Saleem, a psychology major and chemistry minor in the College of Humanities and Sciences on a pre-medical track, was selected as the commencement student speaker after she submitted a video in which she described how her experience at VCU has made a difference in her life.

“Graduating college is a scary time for many of us,” she said. “So I want to tell everyone – and myself – to just keep pushing. Don’t give up on your dreams and your goals, whatever they may be. And even if it seems scary and you think you’ll fail, remember every day is a new day, and an opportunity to try again.”

Saleem immigrated to the United States from Saudi Arabia with her family in 2013 – including her twin brother Faizan, an information systems major in the School of Business who also graduates Saturday. Her family moved to Richmond, where Saleem attended middle school and high school before attending VCU. 

VCU, she said, provided her with opportunities to learn and make an impact on the community. She served in leadership positions in a number of student organizations, including Relay for Life at VCU, which raises funds for the American Cancer Society; Neo Environmental Organization, which advocates for environmentally friendly practices in Richmond; and MEDLIFE at VCU, which helps empower communities to gain equal access to health care through mobile medical and dental clinics.

Saleem has also been an active volunteer throughout her time at VCU. She volunteered with United to Heal at VCU, a student-run nonprofit that seeks to address global health inequities. She tutored students learning Arabic at the Islamic Center of Virginia. And she helped support patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia as a volunteer at a local nursing home.

“When I give back to the community, it makes me really happy,” she said. “Every time I volunteer, I get a sense of satisfaction and peace. Like, ‘I did something good today.’ That happiness is what drives me to continue doing it.”

Looking back on her time at VCU, Saleem said that she feels extremely grateful, humbled and privileged to have gotten the opportunity to learn from very accomplished and helpful professors. Her classes in the Department of Psychology, particularly one on interpersonal relationships and another on child psychopathology, helped her see the world in new ways.

Following graduation, Saleem is looking forward to attending a service trip to Ecuador, where she’ll assist physicians at a mobile clinic and will contribute to other projects that support community health and well-being. She is also hoping to do research, with a particular interest in the areas of Alzheimer’s and dementia, having worked with that patient population as a volunteer while pursuing her dream of becoming a physician.

“Medicine has always sparked my interest and through volunteering, I learned that it gives me immense happiness to be of service to people. Now, I want to help them with my skills and knowledge too.”