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Wise Words from Our Commencement Speakers: Travel Often

Daniel Waqar and Monica Moradkhan were selected as this commencement's featured speakers. Here's what they hope all Rebels will take away from their UNLV experiences.

People  |  May 12, 2016  |  By Taryn Barnes
Monica Moradkhan and Daniel Waqar

Commencement speakers Monica Moradkhan (left, in Paris) and Daniel Waqar (in Turkey). 

Without even realizing it, Daniel Waqar and Monica Moradkhan’s message to their fellow graduates is the same: Remember that you’re a global citizen. 

The two native Las Vegans were chosen out of more than 2,700 graduating student to deliver the keynote speeches at each of this spring's graduation ceremonies. We sat down with the impressive speakers to learn about their UNLV careers and what advice they have for the crop of Rebels who will follow them. (We wouldn’t want to steal the thunder on their speeches by revealing too much about them now.)

Daniel Waqar

As the undergraduate commencement speaker, Waqar will address students during the 2 p.m. ceremony May 14. He is graduating summa cum laude with a bachelor of arts in history and dual minors in global entrepreneurship and public policy.

He was a student in the Honors and Liberal Arts colleges and racked up experiences outside the classroom as a student mentor, a research assistant for Brookings Mountain West, and a junior editor of the Nevada Student Undergraduate Research Journal. He served on several student government positions and studied abroad in Haifa, Israel. Among his many awards, he landed the prestigious Harry S. Truman Scholarship.

On choosing UNLV …

I entered UNLV straight out of high school as a freshman. UNLV was a good fit for all the right reasons — in terms of finances, intellectual support, and academic rigor. The Honors College experience was great not only for my scholarly growth, but it also connected me with a like-minded community of friends and faculty who were all invested in my personal success.

On studying public policy …

As the son of two Pakistani immigrants, I was encouraged by my parents from an early age to be civically minded and to take a global perspective on current events. At UNLV, I majored in history with a concentration on the Middle East. My experiences in the classroom, specifically with Professor John Curry’s courses on the History of the Middle East and the Islamic World, inspired me to learn more about the region and study abroad.

I eventually studied abroad in Israel to learn more about the Middle East peace process. After I returned to campus, I had a handful of research questions in my mind about the conflict there, and I worked with Professor Curry to write my Honors thesis on the root causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how policymakers can address these issues. Ultimately, my goal is to contribute my research to the goal of peace in the region.

On the value of teaching …

One of my most memorable experiences here was teaching a first-year seminar class for the Honors College. I taught 22 young freshmen for a semester about the basics of college, but more importantly, I was proud to shape their perspective about what’s possible on campus. The transition from high school to college can be challenging for some students, and I shared my positive vision about the wealth of opportunities available for them at UNLV.

Advice for current students …

Remain open-minded and optimistic about the things you can do at UNLV. A lot of people assume this is a community campus, but the fact is, we’re a globally-focused institution.

We have a tremendously diverse student body — which is one point I’ll emphasize in my commencement speech. At UNLV, you can make connections with people from all different walks of life, from non-traditional students to returning veterans, as well as international students and especially born-and-raised Nevadans like myself. Las Vegas is becoming increasingly diverse in so many ways. The face of UNLV truly represents the future of America.

What’s next …

About two weeks after graduation, I’m moving to Washington D.C. to work for the Brookings Institution. I’ll have a research position working with the executive vice president and former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk. He is writing a book on former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and his involvement with the Middle East peace process during the 1970s, and I am excited to work with Ambassador Indyk on this project.

Monica Moradkhan

As the graduate student commencement speaker, Moradkhan will deliver her speech at the 9 a.m. ceremony May 14.

She is  adding a master of science in hotel administration to the UNLV bachelor’s degree already under her belt (’04 BS Hotel Administration). Monica pursued her graduate degree while working full-time as the director of development for the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs.

On choosing UNLV …

I grew up in Las Vegas and went to Clark High School so it was a natural step for me to stay home as an undergraduate. My brother was attending UNLV at the time and encouraged me to come to the growing and vibrant campus. I have a close and valued circle in Las Vegas, including family, friends, and coworkers, and wanted that support system and continuity as I pursued higher education.

On the difference between undergraduate and graduate studies …

They were two completely different experiences. I wasn’t working outside of school as an undergraduate, so I had more time flexibility to interact and engage fully in student life. I was president of CSUN student government for two years (the only woman to serve two terms as president in the history of UNLV) and had the great good fortune of participating in prestigious academic programs and attending international conferences.

At the graduate level, finding a balance was a challenge but a good lesson, too. I worked (and am working) full time and attended graduate school part time. The time management was challenging, but, as I noted, the experience provided wonderful life lessons about dedication and commitment.

On the importance of travel …

I discovered my love for travel in 2004 after attending a tourism conference in Finland. There was a moment when I was on a 24-hour cruise from Finland to Sweden. It was 1 o’clock in the morning, pitch black, and all you could see were the beautiful stars. At that moment, I realized how little I was in this world.

Some people never leave their city/state/country — I wish more people would explore the world. It’s good to be uncomfortable with new food, new cultures, and new people. It’s good to realize there’s more outside of where you live. It actually brings people together. Even if you don’t have the opportunity to travel outside of your city, I encourage people to explore their cities and meet new people!

Advice for new students …

Just like with travel and life, be prepared for the unexpected. And remember: there are beautiful moments when things go wrong; those challenges will teach you.

I want them to look at their college experience and think, “What am I going to do with my one and only college experience?” That’s a lesson I took from my own mentor [former Assemblywoman Valerie Weber].  Mentors are a crucial part of the university experience and in life. I want to encourage students to find mentors and enhance their lives.

My campus mentors — Tara Emmers-Sommer, associate dean of research and graduate education in the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs, and Dr. Robert Woods, professor in the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration — have enriched my life in countless ways.

With more than 300 campus organizations, there’s something for everyone here. And if there isn’t an organization you are interested in, there are opportunities to create one! You’ll never regret the friendships you developed during your university experience.

I’d also tell our students to stay in contact with their professors and mentors after graduation and have gratitude for those who have taught you. No matter what your background, no matter what roads led you to commencement, it’s a shared experience to get here.

What’s next …

I’ll be staying at the university. I love higher education and the energetic student environment we have.