Senior Noreen Kassam was not looking to stand out. She just wanted to share her GW story, and explain why her four years mattered.
But the international affairs and political science major will be in a unique spot when she stands alongside NBC News anchor Brian Williams delivering a message of service and sharing her “only at GW” experiences as the student Commencement speaker May 20.
Kassam earned the chance to speak Friday – beating out 11 other seniors who vied for the spot.
“I didn’t see it coming. I was shocked and speechless, as I continue to remain,” Kassam said.
Kassam, who hails from New Mexico, previewed her speech to a panel of judges Friday, sharing her favorite memories from her four years at GW, like “Snowpocalypse” and President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009.
She remembers leaving her dorm a little after 3 a.m. on Inauguration Day, heading to the Capitol building to see the president sworn in.
“Only here at GW are excuses for being late to class because of presidential motorcades or Secret Service barricades not only acceptable, but common,” Kassam said in her preview speech.
She continued to talk about how GW prepared her for life after graduation, saying, “College is traditionally meant to prepare us for the world around us, but in so many ways, simply by virtue of being students at GW, we’ve already entered the professional world,” Kassam said.
Kassam said that she brings a wide range of experiences to the stage in May because of her double major that bridges the Elliott School of International Affairs and the Columbian School of Arts and Sciences, and her wide range of employment experience in both the private and public sectors.
She applied early decision to GW and said a big part of her choice was based on her desire to study in the District.
Kassam said attending GW led her to eventually decide to work in public service by giving her the opportunity to study a variety of disciplines.
In the second semester of her freshman year, Kassam began working for the Treasury Department, spurring her interest in government work. For most of her sophomore and junior year, she worked for Federal Emergency Management Agency.
In the office of security at FEMA, she conducted internal and external security investigations until being promoted to work in the associate director’s office – the third highest ranking official.
She now holds a position on the government affairs team on the National Confectioners Association, a trade association representing all candy companies in the country including Hershey, Mars and Nestle.
“It’s been an amazing learning opportunity in an area where I don’t know much at all. Everyday I go to work and learn something new,” Kassam said.
The senior is fielding several full-time offers from multiple government agencies, she said, but declined to elaborate on which agencies are considering her, due to the sensitive nature of the positions.
Vice President for External Relations Lorraine Voles said she was confident that Kassam would be an impressive speaker.
“She has a really important message for students, faculty and staff, and I think she’s going to be terrific,” Voles said in a release.
With less than a month until Commencement, Kassam said she doesn’t really have any public speaking tricks, but will spend the next few weeks practicing her address.
“I will be practicing and I will be tweaking and doing everything I can to make sure it is the best speech that I could possibly give,” she said.