After COVID-19 interrupted their senior year, two members of the Class of 2020 share their excitement ahead of Sunday's special celebration
When Ayat Husseini ’20 and Saeed Malami ’20 graduated from Lafayette College in May 2020, they—like all of their class peers and like college seniors all over the world—participated in a virtual commencement during the COVID-19 pandemic. This Sunday, May 22, it’s finally their chance to walk across the stage.
Husseini, an international affairs and anthropology and sociology major, and Malami, a computer science and government and law major, formed a close friendship during their time on campus and have remained connected since they began their respective careers (Husseini as a community liaison at assembly member Zohran Mamdani’s district office in Manhattan, and Malami as a software engineer in New Jersey). This week, they will return to Easton to attend their rescheduled 2020 Commencement in person with a number of their former peers, many of whom they’ve remained in touch with since shifting to virtual learning in the middle of their senior spring.
We sat down with them, as representatives of the Class of 2020, to discuss how they feel about finally crossing the Commencement stage at Lafayette, staying in touch with their peers and mentors, who they’re excited to see in person this weekend, and what they’ve been up to since we last saw them.
Husseini: “I’ve had friends say that, looking back, it was one of the most tumultuous and difficult times of their lives. I understand that, and I’ve had moments where I’ve felt similarly, but the spring of 2020 was one semester of eight. The reality is that we left campus two-and-a-half months early. That’s not to minimize the sheer stress when we look at that period of history that we lived through, but there’s so much more to celebrate. I want to go see my friends, my professors, and the people who I made relationships with who I haven’t seen for a few years. I’m excited!”
Malami: “I’m not far from Lafayette and visit at least once a month. I really wanted my parents to be there [for Commencement], and truthfully, it feels like I’ve graduated at least a couple of times already. Unfortunately, my parents can’t be here, so I was really on the fence and kept questioning if I was going to go. But then, a couple of my friends reached out and said they were going, and I have other friends [in the Class of 2022] graduating on Saturday, so at that point I was thinking okay, cool, I’m going to come back. Ayat and I were just talking a few days ago, and going through the lists of other people who will be attending.”
Husseini: “I think there’s something to be said about the fact that there’s actually no time like college, right? We will never all live together again. In that same way, we will never be three minutes away from all of our closest friends at school. And if we have a weekend where we can go do that? I don’t see why not. Two years is not a short amount of time, especially for young twenty-somethings. It feels, to me, almost like we’re getting a golden ticket when we didn’t think we would. The whole point of Lafayette is to build community. I’ve seen a lot of my friends several times since the pandemic, and I’ve been very deliberate about trying to do so. But there are professors who I’ve kept in touch with who I haven’t seen in person since 2020. I’m excited to see Professor [Caleb] Gallemore, who worked with me extensively on my Fulbright application, and Professors [Monica] Salas Landa and [William] Bissell in the anthropology and sociology department, who were readers on my thesis proposal. I’m also excited to see Professor [Robert] Blunt, who I have a great relationship with.”
Malami: “I’m very active in reaching out to people, so I’ve flown out to see a few of my friends from the Class of 2020. I was in Seattle with Anna Nolan ‘20 a few weeks ago, and then I was in San Diego with Talia Baddour ’20. I was in Irvine with Kamal Bookwala ’20, and I was in New York and Philly recently, and got to see Erik Laucks ’20. So, I’ve stayed in touch because I’m the kind of person who really cares about my relationships and puts time into that. I was having lunch in Chicago with Professor [Meghan] Masto, who was one of my favorite philosophy professors, when I got the email about [coming back for Commencement].”
Husseini: “I’m excited to use this weekend to get back in touch with people who I’ve meant to keep in touch with more. I’m meeting up for a walk with one of the librarians from Skillman, and on Sunday night, I’m staying in an Airbnb with a group of friends. After the ceremony, we’re all going to Stoke [restaurant] in Easton, which was always a tradition for us.”
Malami: “Looking at the names of everyone who RSVP’d to attend is bringing back a lot of memories. There are a lot of people here who I’m hoping to see. I was also recently talking to Victoria Puglia ’21 and discussing starting an international alumni affinity group. Lafayette was years of my life that were really important.”
Husseini: “I love my job as a community liaison, but I was recently awarded a Fulbright Fellowship and will be spending at least nine months working on an urban planning project in Jordan. I’m also considering going to graduate school after that.”
Malami: “My position as a software engineer is virtual, so not a lot has changed for me. It affords me the flexibility to be able to travel and crash on my friends’ couches whenever I want to visit with my Lafayette friends, which I’m grateful for.”
Lafayette College will honor the Class of 2022 and the Class of 2020 May 21 and May 22