Sonali Samarasinghe, Ithaca City of Asylum’s resident writer, was selected to give the commencement address at The Ellis School in Pittsburgh on June 6, 2013. The Ellis School is Pittsburgh’s only independent school dedicated to the education of girls and young women from age three through grade twelve.
During Samarasinghe’s talk to the graduates and their friends and families, she congratulated the graduating students while also encouraging them to support the universal human right of education for girls all over the world.
“As you go forth into your future, holding hope in one hand, and infinite possibility in the other, I urge you, to give pause, and be thoughtful, of the struggles of women and girls everywhere.”
She told them the story of Malala, a Pakistani teenager who was shot for advocating for the education of girls, and also shared her own story of bravery in the face of oppression in Sri Lanka. In conclusion, she urged the graduates to go forth into the world to serve others with courage and empathy. “It is my hope, that whatever life may fling at you along the way, you will be defined, not by how hard you fell down, but by how courageously you picked yourself up, and by how readily you extended a hand to others, to raise them to their feet, once again.”
Samarasinghe is an award-winning journalist and human rights activist. She practiced law in Sri Lanka for twenty years and worked as a journalist focusing on human rights, including government corruption and women’s issues. Currently, in addition to being ICOA’s writer-in-residence, she is also a visiting scholar in residence within the Honors Program at Ithaca College’s School of Humanities and Sciences. Samarasinghe is working on a book about her experiences in Sri Lankan politics and media.