The aftermath from Medina Jasarevic’s words at Fort Vancouver High School’s graduation ceremony last week has the recent high school graduate, well, speechless.
“My emotions are all over the place,” the 18-year-old said. “I never expected this.”
Her 4-minute, 50-second graduation speech presented to the Class of 2021 and guests at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds on June 14 has gone viral on social media, and been picked up by multiple media outlets halfway around the world. She also is a trending search on Google.
Jasarevic is a proud first-generation Bosnian American whose family migrated to the United States in 2001. Her family’s refugee story was the central focus of her graduation speech — and a surprise to the family, nonetheless — that she spent several months writing and rewriting. The recorded speech got posted to social media, and now has been viewed more than 300,000 times. She hoped the speech would not only resonate with Fort’s diverse student population, but also the local Bosnian community.
She got all that — and a lot more. Messages have poured in from around the world, expressing their gratitude and outpouring of support as “the pride of Bosnia.” Bosnian media also picked up her story. Connecting with those who have faced discrimination and reaching other immigrant families became her main motivations for the speech.
“Not just mine and not just Bosnians,” she said. “Every other immigrant can pull something out of my speech and they could connect on a deeper level.”
And that begins with her family’s migration story. This year marks 20 years since Jasarevic’s family arrived in the United States from Bosnia and Herzegovina, carrying pain and nostalgia as the result of a war. Years earlier, her father, Mahir, was imprisoned for nearly three years at a concentration camp during the Bosnian War. He was one of the few to survive out of thousands, Jasarevic said.
And a stranger’s good act in the family’s first U.S. encounter is never forgotten. It came at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport when Jasarevic’s uncle, Almin, went to purchase food at an airport bakery with just a handful of quarters and three words of English. An employee handed a bag of dinner rolls to a hungry family seeking a better life in a new country.
That positivity and kindness her family experienced 20 years ago is what Jasarevic also echoed to her fellow Fort graduates. Jasarevic plans to study dentistry at Washington State University Vancouver in the fall.
“We can be the change the world desperately needs right now,” she told The Columbian. “Our generation has the opportunity to continue enforcing equality and the spread of kindness. … If we want to see change we have to choose to be on the good side of that spectrum.”
Vancouver Public Schools allowed for just one student speaker at this year’s in-person outdoor graduation ceremonies. Each year, students are selected by a committee made up of staff and administrators at their school to give the speech.
Ben Jatos, a longtime English teacher at Fort, is on that committee. In 20 years of listening to graduation speeches, the powerful words spoken by Jasarevic last week is Jatos’ favorite.
“There was a magic to it,” he said. “Hers spoke to so many kids. It was perfect.”