Syrian refugee gives commencement speech in Boulder

Author: Mary MacCarthy - May 25, 2017 - Updated: May 25, 2017

Graduation — it’s an event as American as apple pie.

And graduate Abdulsalam Hindawi looked just as American as the thousands of other students decked out in caps and gowns at the University of Colorado Boulder this month.

But his back-story is far from typical.

Hindawi is an asylum-seeker from Syria, who — despite the challenges of having fled his war-torn homeland — managed to achieve what fewer than 1 in 10 Americans have achieved: he earned a master’s degree.

The focus of Hindawi’s research might not surprise you:  Refugee Studies.

“I feel like I’m looking at my own past, but with an academic lens,” he said in his speech to his fellow graduates.

Hindawi fled Syria when the war broke out six years ago, spending time in Turkey before applying to and getting accepted to the graduate program at CU.

His mother still lives in Aleppo – the city that’s become synonymous with the civil war that’s estimated to have killed close to half a million people.

Degree in hand, but tough road ahead

Hindawi expresses gratitude towards his academic advisor, Dr. Jennifer Fluri

Hindawi had a smile on his face throughout graduation day, but his arduous journey is not over. He has his advanced degree in hand, but the documents he really needs — citizenship papers — have not yet been granted.

His speech, however, didn’t focus on his plight as a Syrian asylum-seeker under an administration that’s not friendly towards Syrians or towards refugees.

Instead, Hindawi took to the podium to celebrate the value of a liberal arts education, saying the study of  topics like geography can help to bridge the political gaps that divide human beings: “We learned that knowledge isn’t only about books, it’s the knowledge of ourselves and each other as individuals, without discrimination.”

Mary MacCarthy


  • Salam Hindawi

    May 25, 2017 at 3:07 pm

    Thank you Mary for a great job. I’m so grateful to individuals like yourself who spread the word of love and understanding between host and refugee communities in the United States.

  • Amro

    May 26, 2017 at 5:16 am

    Great report !! It drew a smile on my face 🙂

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