Smith speaker Luma Mufleh is founder of school for refugees

Oct 1, 2023

NORTHAMPTON — Luma Mufleh, who was shaped by her experience at her beloved alma mater, Smith College, and went on to found the refugee and immigrant education nonprofit Fugees Family, will be Smith’s commencement speaker this year.

“I thought it was some kind of joke,” said Mufleh, on being asked to be the commencement speaker, noting that the likes of Oprah and Gloria Steinem have received this honor.

The commencement ceremony will take place May 15 starting at 10 a.m.

Mufleh said that she’s “really excited and honored and humbled,” to be giving the commencement speech. She also said that it feels like the toughest speech she will have ever given, and is thinking about the kind of speech she would have wanted to hear as someone graduating.

“I’m very vested in the impact it has on (the graduates),” she said.

Mufleh is originally from Jordan and is of Syrian descent. She said she wasn’t fully mentally present for her own graduation because her asylum hearing was scheduled for the next week. Earlier, Mufleh had come out as gay to her family, and was disowned by them, and she chose to seek asylum in the United States because of her sexuality.

Mufleh’s application for asylum was accepted and she now lives with her wife and three children in Columbus, Ohio. She has also since reconciled with her family, and is hoping that they come to Smith for her commencement speech.

Mufleh is the founder and CEO of Fugees Family, a nonprofit that has its origins in a pickup soccer game that turned into an afterschool program and now runs two schools — a charter school in Georgia and a private school in Ohio. Both schools are for immigrants, refugees and the children of immigrants and refugees, and no one is charged money to attend.

The requirements to enroll in both schools, which are for Grades 6 through 12, are that a student speak a language other than English at home, qualify for free lunch, is learning below grade level, and is either a refugee, immigrant, or child of refugees or immigrants.

Mufleh said that Fugees Family is also working with public schools to help them better serve refugee and immigrant students and the children of refugees and immigrants.

In addition to giving the commencement speech Mufleh will also be receiving an honorary degree from the institution. Mufleh already has a bachelor’s degree from Smith, having graduated in 1997 with a bachelor of arts in anthropology.

Disability rights advocate Judith E. Heumann, violinist Midori, journalist Isabel Wilkerson and anti-domestic violence advocate and Safe Passage Executive Director Marianne Winters will also be receiving honorary degrees at this year’s commencement.