top of page

I had hoped to speak to high-schoolers – I still do – but the six high schools nearest me either ignored my offer to speak or declined it. “Do it for the kids,” they say when asking to raise your property taxes, but it’s beyond the pale to dissuade those very same kids from needlessly putting themselves in harm’s way? Parents might have a different opinion, so here’s my speech: Before we get into this, let’s discuss what most would label “a hypothetical.” Tonight, I’m going to break into your home, point a gun at you, and rob you – all the while claiming that I’m not your enemy. Your enemy, I’ll say, is elsewhere, and I don’t mean across the street but in a different country. What will you do? By a show of hands, will you fight back and protect those in your home by evicting me or even by killing me? By a show of hands, who will thank me and travel to said country in search of the enemy, leaving those in your home vulnerable to me? Anyone? Nobody? It sounds absurd, but for reasons that I’ll soon explain, you’ll understand that it’s more real than hypothetical.layout clean. Link your text to anything, or set your text box to expand on click. Write your text here...

Screenshot 2024-04-16 110927.png

I am honored to have been selected as USC Class of 2024 Valedictorian. Although this should have been a time of celebration for my family, friends, professors, and classmates, anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian voices have subjected me to a campaign of racist hatred because of my uncompromising belief in human rights for all. This campaign to prevent me from addressing my peers at commencement has evidently accomplished its goal: today, USC administrators informed me that the university will no longer allow me to speak at commencement due to supposed security concerns. I am both shocked by this decision and profoundly disappointed that the University is succumbing to a campaign of hate meant to silence my voice. I am not surprised by those who attempt to propagate hatred. I am surprised that my own university—my home for four years—has abandoned me. In a meeting with the USC Provost and the Associate Senior Vice President of Safety and Risk Assurance on April 14, I asked about the alleged safety concerns and was told that the University had the resources to take appropriate safety measures for my valedictory speech, but that they would not be doing so since increased security protections is not what the University wants to “present as an image.” Because I am not aware of any specific threats against me or the university, because my request for the details underlying the university’s threat assessment has been denied, and because I am not being provided any increased safety to be able to speak at commencement, there remain serious doubts about whether USC’s decision to revoke my invitation to speak is made solely on the basis of safety. Instead of allowing the campaign of hatred to define who I am and what I stand for, let me therefore take this opportunity to tell you about myself. I am a first-generation South Asian-American Muslim whose passion for service stems from the experience of my grandparents, who were unable to access lifesaving medical technology because they had been displaced by communal violence. I am a biomedical engineer who learned the meaning of health equity through developing low- cost and accessible jaundice for babies whose darker skin color conceals the visual yellowing of their complexion. I am a proud Trojan who loves my campus that has enabled me to go from building a walker to shipping medical gowns to Ukraine to writing about the Rwandan Genocide to taking blood pressure measurements for our neighbors in Skid Row. I am a student of history who chose to minor in resistance to genocide, anchored by the Shoah Foundation, and have learned that ordinary people are capable of unspeakable acts of violence when they are taught hate fueled by fear. And due to widespread fear, I was hoping to use my commencement speech to inspire my classmates with a message of hope. By canceling my speech, USC is only caving to fear and rewarding hatred. My identities and experiences inspired me to think outside the box—a mindset I cultivated at USC, and it is this very quality that contributed to my selection as USC Valedictorian. As your class Valedictorian, I implore my USC classmates to think outside the box—to work towards a world where cries for equality and human dignity are not manipulated to be expressions of hatred. I challenge us to respond to ideological discomfort with dialogue and learning, not bigotry and censorship. And I urge us to see past our deepest fears and recognize the need to support justice for all people, including the Palestinian people. Asna Tabassum is the University of Southern California’s Class of 2024 Valedictorian.

White Background

Fresno Art Museum

Lobby and Concourse Galleries

thru June 30th

As the chaos of the Vietnam War dominated American news, a shadow war was being fought in neighboring Laos. Since the 1950s, the United States had been involved in Laos, where communism had begun to take hold, with forces backed by North Vietnam. In the early 1960s, CIA officers allied with the Hmong who were already fighting communist forces. The Hmong, a unique tribal group originally from China, amassed a guerilla force which grew to more than 30,000 fighters backed by the CIA. The Hmong fought for their land and their livelihood, but the goal of the CIA was destroying communist supply lines between Laos and Vietnam and tying down North Vietnamese forces. Between 1964 and 1973, the United States dropped 2 million tons of bombs on Laos—more than were dropped on Germany and Japan combined during World War II. Yet this was known as the “Secret War.” It was an entirely covert paramilitary operation that was unknown to the American general public. This CIA operation is the largest clandestine operation in the agency’s history. The U.S. pulled out of Laos in 1973, leaving tens of thousands of Hmong to flee to neighboring Thailand, to later emigrate to Germany, France, and the United States. John Willheim was already an established photographer when he joined the CIA. He was especially chosen to enter and document the Secret War. His photographs were classified for decades, seen only by top American intelligence officials and the President. His images show the everyday life of the Hmong people and their landscape, as well as the brutality of war. One of the most featured figures is a young General Vang Pao (1929-2011), the venerated leader of the Hmong forces. Now that these powerful images are unclassified, this exhibition marks their first public viewing. A resident of Southern California, Willheim chose Fresno, with its large Hmong community with strong ties to the Secret War, as the ideal place to unveil these images.

bottom of page