Clark University has announced the student speakers for the May 21 Commencement 2023 ceremony.
Glory Phipps ’23, a philosophy major and former vice president of the Student Council who is planning a law career, will address her fellow undergraduates.
Idriss Laouali Abdou, MBA ’23, a software engineer and creator of an app that helps guide students through the college application process, will speak to members of the graduate school.
As she was drafting her proposed speech for this year’s Commencement ceremony, senior Glory Phipps hunted for the perfect metaphor to describe the Class of 2023.
They were a resilient group, this she knew. Beginning in the spring of their first year, this class lost a chunk of their on-campus experience to COVID-19, and felt the virus’s impact in a host of ways throughout most of their four years. The joy of their college experience was partly dulled by the realities of remote and hybrid learning; regular testing; physical distancing; cancellations of sports seasons and theatrical shows; and in-person interactions conducted from behind muffling masks.
But the Class of 2023 also thrived despite the challenges, accomplishing great things in classrooms and labs (remotely and in-person), delivering rousing performances from the stage, and competing at a high level on the athletic fields and courts once the games were resumed.
Phipps finally found her inspiration in a poem by the late rapper Tupac Shakur about a rose that fights its way through a crack in the concrete, and blooms.
“Despite the hardships we faced from COVID and other things throughout our college years, we were able to blossom into who we are today,” Phipps says. “First you only see cement, then a bud, then the rose. And yes, the rose is beautiful, but it’s also strong — it has thorns. We’re that way: We had the strength to fight for what we believe in, and we always had our community.”
Phipps is a philosophy major who grew to love the lively classroom discussions — sometimes arguments — around deep and twisty topics that connected ancient theories with contemporary questions of ethics and morality. These debates helped spark an interest in the law, which she intends to pursue as a career. After taking a gap year to earn some money and solidify her plans, Phipps intends to enroll in law school, preferably New York University, which offers a dual-degree program that will allow her to earn a law degree and a master’s in philosophy.
Phipps, whose passion for social justice prompted her to raise campus awareness about issues of concern among communities of color, is leaning toward a career in civil rights law. She notes that as the product of “a low-income black and brown community” in Brooklyn, “I’ve seen the treatment of people who do not have access to resources and do not know their legal rights.” She wants to be an advocate for those who need help navigating a criminal justice system that, she says, is tilted against them.
She enjoyed helping fellow students at Clark find their voice. She became involved in campus government when, as a representative for Dodd Hall, she advocated for renovations in the student lounge. As vice president of Student Council this year, Phipps was a vital presence on the executive board, “bridging communities, meeting with constituents, and working on initiatives.”
Phipps admits to being “a little nervous” about the future, but she is appropriately philosophical about it, and about the prospects for the Class of 2023.
“I can’t know everything about the future, so I intend to embrace it with a warm hug,” she says with a smile. “I don’t have to have it all planned out yet — there’s a path for everyone, and we’ll navigate it no matter where it takes us. I see us all coming out beautiful.”
Like a rose through concrete.
Idriss Laouali Abdou, MBA ’23, is headed for a job at Amazon in Seattle as a senior product manager. He has developed a popular app that helps connect young people to educational opportunities, and created his own YouTube channel to coach others in how to apply to college and pursue scholarships.
To accomplish all this, Abdou left his home country of Niger to earn degrees in software engineering at schools in Morocco and France, and his MBA at Clark University as a Fulbright Scholar.
Abdou works hard, takes risks, and perseveres, and he is comfortable with his success. But as a mentor to many young people, he is unsettled by a strain of thinking he hears being expressed — especially by those who have been raised in difficult circumstances — that they don’t deserve the same kind of life and career he’s made for himself. That is, if they can’t envision a clear path forward, then forging a new one is pointless.
It’s a mindset he finds unproductive and one he hopes to reverse.
“I want to help youth who do not have anyone to inspire them,” he says. “They think that if they don’t have access to something, then they don’t deserve it. I can tell them that of the many things I’ve done in my life, I was often the first one from my environment to do them. I don’t want others to have the same difficulties that I’ve had.”
“One of the reasons I want to speak at Commencement is so that many youths from Niger may see what I’ve been able to do and know that they can do it also.”
Abdou found his passions early. Growing up, he became fascinated with computers, and by high school, he’d become proficient at repairing them. He graduated from high school in Niger, and then, to access opportunities unavailable to him there, he studied for four years in Morocco before spending another two years at the National Institute of Applied Sciences in Toulouse, France. There, he took time from his studies to work with an association that mentors youths from immigrant families to help them maximize their opportunities.
In 2016, he merged his passions for technology and education into his app, Karatou Post Bac, which gives the user essential information about 67 fields of study in higher education. “We describe the core competencies that you’ll need in a particular program, and link to the stories of different youths who studied in this program, explaining why they chose it and what they’re doing for work.”
The app is used by more than 20,000 people in Africa, he says, and the YouTube channel he created in 2021 to help young people with their college search today boasts 30,000 subscribers and 80,000 views a month.
His Commencement message is two-fold: Challenge yourself to accomplish the things that give you joy and satisfaction, but always strive to have a positive impact on those around you.
“Believe in your dream,” he advises. “You never have to accept your situation based on your background or environment. You should always keep pushing ahead, but never forget to help your community and elevate others over yourself.”