Class of COVID: Sanaa Ghanim

The Class of COVID series allows graduating students the opportunity to say goodbye to SMU in a non-traditional way and reflect on what it’s like to graduate during the COVID-19 pandemic. Seniors who wish to contribute can send submissions to

By: Sanaa Ghanim

Earlier this week, President Turner announced that SMU is moving all classes online for the remainder of the spring semester. To some students, this might seem like an extended spring break or an early summer vacation. To seniors like myself, Turner’s email brought emotions of sadness as we realized that we had attended the last lecture of our undergraduate careers without even knowing it.

The 2019-2020 academic school year has been the most incredible year of my college experience.

In August, I reunited with my classmates and professors that I hadn’t seen since the previous semester, eager to see what my final year of undergrad had in store.

Sanaa with members of the Human Rights program.
Sanaa with members of the Human Rights program. Photo credit: SMU

In September, I worked with the SMU Human Rights Council to host the Human Rights Kick-Off on Dallas Hall Lawn which welcomed our newest class of SMU Human Rights Students.

In October, I met with my mentor, Hope Anderson. We sat in her office, teary-eyed, as I read my personal statement that I would soon send to law schools across the country.

In November, I represented the SMU Human Rights Program in SMU’s 99th Homecoming Court. This would be the program’s second year participating in homecoming and I won third runner-up for homecoming queen. I traveled to the United Kingdom to work on my research through my SMU Engaged Learning fellowship. Right before my trip to the UK, I submitted my law school applications.

Sanaa and the Human Rights program during Homecoming 2019.
Sanaa and the Human Rights program during Homecoming 2019. Photo credit: Sanaa Ghanim

In December, unbeknownst to me, I took my last set of in-person final exams. During finals week, I was in Fondren Library’s reading room at 4 a.m., flipping my flash cards, reading over my notes, and waiting for the Fondren Starbucks to open. After finals, I watched SMU’s December Commencement ceremony, anticipating the day that I would graduate in just a few months.

In January, I started my final undergraduate semester. The night before classes began, I tweeted “very emotional about going into my last semester of undergrad tomorrow… how did this happen?”

Sanaa giving a speech at Dining with Decision Makers.
Sanaa giving a speech at Dining with Decision Makers. Photo credit: SMU

In February, I attended Dining with Decision Makers, an annual event that provides thirty students with the opportunity to share their experiences with the SMU Board of Trustees. During the event, I was selected to give a speech in which I urged the trustees to invest in student-led research. I spent Valentine’s Day at a Bernie Sanders rally. I smiled in the stands as I watched the senator express urgency for solutions to healthcare, student loan debt, and the current political tension in our country.

Earlier this month, I sat in Fondren Library, stressing over my midterm exams, when I learned that I was awarded a full-ride scholarship to law school. I immediately called my parents and we cried tears of joy – a moment I will never forget.

Sanaa joining Phi Beta Kappa, the oldest national honor society in the United States.
Sanaa joining Phi Beta Kappa, the oldest national honor society in the United States. Photo credit: Sanaa Ghanim

While this year presented a list of stand-out moments, there were also day-to-day moments that I didn’t truly come to cherish until now – moments that, looking back, were the simplest yet most amazing moments of undergrad. At least once a week, the person who would come to be my closest friend at SMU, Michelle Aslam, would pick me up in her Jeep and drive us to Dunkin’ Donuts for our “study break” that would somehow always end up lasting at least three hours. Michelle and I likely tried every restaurant within a five-mile radius of SMU; more often than not, we chose to eat at a Thai restaurant while we discussed politics.

Sanaa with Michelle Aslam on a study break.
Sanaa with Michelle Aslam on a study break. Photo credit: Michelle Aslam

I’ll miss attending office hours with my brilliant professors, including Dr. Brad Klein, who has believed in me in the moments when I most doubted myself. He encouraged me to apply to Harvard Law School and I vividly remember telling him that Harvard would “laugh at the thought of admitting me.” Because of Dr. Klein’s support, I submitted anyway, and let’s just say that Harvard also had more faith in me than I ever did.

After two majors and a minor, over 120 credit hours, countless student organization meetings, many hours in Fondren, and an unspeakable amount of money spent on lattes, I am still left unsatisfied with the fact that my senior year has been cut short.

While I know that moving classes online and potentially postponing graduation is necessary during these uncertain times, I can’t help but hold on to feelings of sadness knowing that I won’t experience a traditional end to my college experience. I won’t feel the bittersweet emotions of walking away from my last lecture, hugging my college friends goodbye, or formally thanking my professors who have contributed to my experience at SMU.

To my fellow class of 2020: While the logistics of our graduation ceremony are uncertain, the weight of our great accomplishment isn’t. My hope is that we are able to celebrate together and in-person in the near future, but for now, let us reflect on how far we have come since the first day we stepped onto SMU’s beautiful campus.

Although it will soon be my time to leave SMU as an undergrad student, SMU will never truly leave me.

Sanaa Ghanim is majoring in human rights and English with a minor in Arabic. On campus, she serves in leadership positions on Student Senate, the Human Rights Council, Mortar Board, the Library Advisory Board, and the Feminist Equality Movement. She plans to attend law school this fall with a focus on international human rights law.

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