Performance arts and digital film student Azeb Tuji is a storyteller who’s started writing her story at Shoreline. This year’s Commencement student speaker, Tuji hopes her experience helps others find their voice as well.
The daughter of a Somali mother and Ethiopian father, Tuji immigrated to the US from Kenya when she was two years old and is the first of her family to graduate high school and college.
“Being student speaker is very important to me,” said Tuji, “because I get to be the person I wish I saw or had when I was younger: a role model of what is possible for a black, muslim, womxn immigrant. There were no positive representations of people who fit that description when I was growing up, so now it’ll be like my 8-year-old self seeing someone who looks like her accomplishing something she never thought she could because she was never shown or told she could. It’s very powerful for me.”
Tuji’s success has even inspired members of her family to re-think their education. Tuji’s mother is taking ESL classes with plans to become a nurse, and Tuji’s older brother is getting his GED. “It’s a little surreal because I’m the younger one and I’m inspiring them,” said Tuji.
As a multimedia journalist, Tuji also hopes to inspire youth who don’t see their own stories reflected in mainstream media. “It’s completely important for youth to have the ability to be creative and in control of expressing themselves and their story through art,” said Tuji. “If you grow up and all you hear in media and news is not reflective of who you are or your cultural values,” said Tuji, “you begin to internalize that there’s something wrong with you and you’re the ‘other’ and you should put a piece of yourself away.”
“I like the idea of going into communities with youth and empowering them to take charge of their own stories,” said Tuji. “If I can give a platform for more diverse stories it’ll let kids know it’s ok to be who they are, that there’s no right or wrong way to be, and that they’re ok.”
Tuji has already begun this work as a RadioActive Advance Producer and youth reporter for KUOW/NPR, telling stories centered on race, feminism, LGBTQ+, art, and the politics of representation.
“Telling marginalized stories of youth is especially important because it’s critical to reach students at that age before their heart turns to stone,” said Tuji. “Before they end up quitting school or going to prison, committing suicide, or thinking there’s no place for them in the world.”
Tuji, who is involved in several campus groups including the Black Student Union, the African Student Club, and the Student Leadership Center, travels to campus daily from Tukwila, taking two buses over two hours each way. She says the commute is worth it.
“I’ve gotten to be a different person here,” she said. “I’ve gotten to step out of my comfort zone and learn to be independent and make room for myself. Being so far from my community at home, I’ve had a freedom to explore who I am and want to be and develop a new sense of self and being comfortable in my own skin.”
Part of that comfort came from the relationships she built here and the intersectional programming put on by the Student Leadership Center.
“When I was looking at schools for film I looked at Shoreline because of the reputation of the program and everything that’s going on here like the Seattle International Film Festival, but then also because of the amazing event programming. You’ve got the Community Read events and Margin to Center. I remember coming here for the first time and specifically seeing the Trans Day of Remembrance and Black Lives Matter art installation and knowing there was a community here that would have my back.”
After graduating, Tuji hopes to transfer to the University of Arts, London into the Contemporary Media Culture program, which studies the role that media, cultural, and creative processes play in shaping today’s world. Wherever she ends up, she’ll be telling her story and empowering others to tell theirs.
Her advice to new students? “Take advantage of everything that’s offered here. There are so many free programming opportunities and so much to discover. Get involved and network with fellow students and faculty and just enjoy it. It’s like nowhere else.”