Giving back through community

by Michelle Saport  |   

UAA Fall 2023 commencement speaker Bay Alabdulbaqi. (Photo by James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage)
UAA Fall 2023 commencement speaker Bay Alabdulbaqi. (Photo by James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage)

For Bay Alabdulbaqi, student commencement speaker for UAA's fall Class of 2023, college has been a journey of discovery and transformation. She sees the speaker opportunity as a way to "express gratitude and be a mentor for other students" — the perfect culmination for her undergraduate experience.

Born and raised in Saudi Arabia, Bay was drawn to Alaska by a scholarship and the allure of untouched nature. Although she instantly fell for the cooler weather and scenery, it took a while before she found her place at UAA.

"The very first few years were the hardest for me. I didn't know anybody. I didn't have community. I wasn't really happy in my major," said Bay.

Driven by her interest in math and design, she initially chose to study engineering. Yet the more she progressed, the more she felt like the choice wasn't the best fit. She hesitated to change her major though, daunted by the thought of beginning over, until a math class with Professor Larry Foster, Ph.D., changed her mind.

"He ignited my love for math," said Bay. "He makes math class so much fun. He jokes all the time in his class, is so fun and informative and educational. He tells us stories about mathematicians and history, and how it all is interconnected with the sciences."

When she consulted him about her dilemma, he asked, "If you had all the money in the world, what would you choose?" Framing the choice that way transformed her outlook. Not long after, she switched her major to psychology with a minor in math.

In her new major, one class immediately stood out as her favorite: positive psychology. "A lot of psychology focuses on the illness or the negative things or treating problems. But positive psychology focuses on improving, thriving, bettering someone's life," Bay said. "So the treatment, therapeutic part will usually stop at coping. But positive psychology takes it further into, 'How do you thrive? How do you be the happiest you can be?'"

She credits another light-bulb moment with improving her undergraduate experience. "I had an idea of finding the community I wanted. And then when that idea changed into, 'I'm not really going to find it. I'm going to create it.' — that's when it really got so much better for me."

After that epiphany, she made a deliberate effort to get involved — "giving myself a seat at the table instead of waiting for it to come to me or find me." She joined the Psychology Club and took on a leadership role as chair of Club Council soon after.

Initially shy and worried about the time commitment, Bay found the role more fulfilling than overwhelming. "Especially if I have the intention that, 'I'm doing this to create community. I'm doing this for me and for other students,'" she noted.

The experience spurred Bay to get even more involved, joining the International Students Organization and working with Multicultural Student Services (MSS).

She's particularly proud of her work creating community with MSS, where she served as the first Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) leader. In the student worker role, Bay worked with other JEDIs on centering, celebrating and embracing people of marginalized identities and religions, as well as international students. As part of the program, Bay served as an orientation leader, guiding campus tours for new students. For Bay, the experience was the perfect opportunity to give back. "It was really cool to turn my failures into lessons that I could share with other students and make their journey less lonely, less stressful."

Graduation will be a family affair for Bay. Her brother, Ahmed, will walk across the stage to accept his bachelor's in finance, while their mother will be in the crowd proudly cheering them on.

As for the future, Bay sees herself staying in Alaska (if not traveling the world) and working with refugees, contributing with therapy and collective healing.

She has a message for her fellow graduates as they continue life's journey: "Keep transforming. Keep growing and take everything you've learned here out in the world and make it a better place. Always contribute, always try to make the place you are in better."

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