Each August, Rowland Hall holds Convocation, a traditional gathering that brings our school community together to connect, learn, and celebrate the start of a new school year. This year’s event, held the morning of Friday, August 25, centered around the 2023–2024 theme, and school value, Learn for Life.
Every year, Rowland Hall’s student body president is invited to address the group of students, faculty, staff, trustees, alumni, and families gathered for Convocation. This year, Student Body President Omar Alsolaiman highlighted the values of learning, the importance of seeking and applying knowledge, and how dedication to lifelong learning can inspire students to become people the world needs.
Omar’s speech, lightly edited for style and context, appears below.
Good morning, everyone. My name is Omar Alsolaiman, and I’m your student body president.
Before I start, let’s have the seniors stand up just to be recognized for being in their last year.
Let me first congratulate you all on being here in general—whether you’re in your first years, like our first graders, or you’re about to graduate, like our seniors, or graduated about a century ago like Dr. Dan Jones, you have taken your first steps this year towards lifelong friendships, thinking deeply, and, most of all, learning. Wherever you are on your journey, let’s all take a moment to reflect and appreciate it—to appreciate what we have done and where we will be in the future.
But perhaps more backbreaking than all of our learning put together was of course the middle and upper schoolers’ walk up the hill—give yourselves a round of applause.
I know, it’s just awful. Impossible, really.
Now, I know many of you, despite the fact that you just applauded for yourselves, don’t want to be here on this hot morning, picking grass and listening to people, but as an old lady told me about a week ago on the train when I apologized for being in her way, “We all have to be somewhere,” and you know what, I think your place just so happens to be here today.
Now, when Mr. Hoglund first emailed me in the middle of my summer to tell me what this year’s theme was, Learning for Life, I decided to ignore the email until the end of the summer. But in all seriousness, I basically had no idea how I, a 17-year-old high schooler, could impart the wisdom of a lifetime. I mean, they told me lifetime learning and what am I supposed to do? But as I thought about it, and my internship professor reminded me what his thesis advisor had told him before he graduated, that learning is never ending, even after a single degree or accomplishment. And I realized that the Rowland Hall theme Learning for Life was not about dropping off a big bio textbook in your office cubicle in 20 years to make sure that you still know that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, but instead to prepare you by developing the skills to naturally and easily continue learning, problem solving, and critically thinking for life.
Rowland Hall has taught me to value that journey that leads to what I learn—this effort is what really teaches us and carries on after we are done with a project.—Omar Alsolaiman, class of 2024
So I sat down and thought about what the values of learning are, and I came up with a couple, and that was in the only way I knew how—Arabic.
Now, I do feel kind of bad for KP, who spent the last year teaching me about English rhetoric only for me to come up in front of the entire school to talk about Arabic rhetoric and grammar, but I swear, KP, I did actually pay attention in class last year and I didn’t do too bad on the AP.
But let me give you a quick crash course for Arabic. Now, like some words in English, the building blocks in Arabic are three-letter roots. I will make this short and simple, but for example, F A L, which means to do. And from this, you can conjugate basically any derivative of the original meaning. Yes, lower schoolers, there is actually a purpose of conjugating in Spanish and you do sometimes do it in English as well.
Now, for our case, let's focus on a different word. F A L means to do, but that’s not perfectly relevant right now, so let’s focus on I L M. I L M, try to say that with me: I L M. It’s all in the throat. That wasn’t actually too bad. I was expecting to give you guys a bit more. But, Rowland Hall, you should make sure that Arabic is at some point a course option. Until then, if you need Arabic tutoring, just text me.
Anyway, I L M means to learn, to teach, or just knowledge in general. Now, that’s all well and good, but what’s cool and very appealing to my strict rule-based engineering brain is that if you rearrange those letters in any format, any root you come up with is actually directly related to the original meaning of the word, or sometimes even the direct opposite. So this means that if we take some of these combinations, for example, we switch the lam and the meem, we get I M L, which means to work or to do something deliberately. This tells us that learning for life, and just learning in general, is not just a one-stop shop. In fact, it’s something that requires some intentional effort. Throughout the years, Rowland Hall has taught me to value that journey that leads to what I learn—this effort is what really teaches us and carries on after we are done with a project. For example, last year, as the juniors this year will do, my class worked on the vintage ad project—I know, it's a name that sends shivers down any high schooler’s spine. But despite the torturous time frame we’re given, the scope of the assignment, and the literal countless number of days that I spent with less than a couple hours of sleep, the teachers make a point to let us do the bulk of our research, making sure that our papers aren't spoon-fed evidence and instead have our own lines that we gather from pages of unnecessarily long research papers about Japanese airline statistics in 1964.
Now, that’s one part of I M L’s, or to work, relation to I L M, to learn, but I'd also argue that the work doesn't end with the acquisition of knowledge. Even more literally, another meaning of I M L is to exercise an influence; so instead, after we learn, we have to work to use our knowledge and benefit the world with it. Mr. Wilson has always made a point, and repeatedly taught me and my friends that, when teaching us about global climate patterns and climate change, it's not just classroom knowledge—it’s immediately applicable to the world and must be applied. There's an old Arab parable that compares one who pointlessly absorbs knowledge, or doesn’t absorb it all, to a donkey carrying books on its back. Even if it has every book in the world, it can't really do anything with it and it can’t properly learn and implement the books. That's our job as lifelong learners. Always seek out knowledge, whether that’s learning why your friend has an unhealthy obsession with Crocs or learning about the solutions to making Salt Lake more walkable. And then, once you have the knowledge, use it and invest in it.
The more we continue to learn, the more we shine and become examples for our communities, our families, and even our friends, the more we can actually make an impact.—Omar Alsolaiman
Now, the second rearrangement of I L M that can benefit us is L M I, which means to beam or shine with color. What this tells us is the result of our learning for life. The more we learn intentionally, and the more we implement it in the communities around us, as cheesy as it sounds, makes one stand out, makes us the people that the world needs, as Mr. Hoglund mentioned, and a shining light of hope for our communities and even the world. While I've been at Rowland Hall, it has continued to highlight our students and beckon them to become people the world needs—well, that begins with a dedication to lifelong learning. Even if you came out of high school the person the world needed, especially in the age of information, within five years, you could be as good as obsolete, or even cringe. As such, the more we continue to learn, the more we shine and become examples for our communities, our families, and even our friends, the more we can actually make an impact. Make yourself a toolbox of the bits of wisdom you learn in school and life, and the little bits of knowledge that Rowland Hall, its teachers, its values, and its people have given you. That toolbox will act as a lifelong guide and make you hopefully choose to continue learning as the opportunities arrive.
So when you go home today, or actually, back to school (sorry about that), I want you to remember these qualities and prerequisites of knowledge—knowledge does allow us to make an impact and gleam, but we also must work to gain it and use it.