Axana Soltan Speaks at Wilder School Commencement

"As a young immigrant, my intelligence was frequently questioned. If I entered an academic competition, I was expected not to succeed. Many of my peers and teachers were often skeptical of my abilities because there was no precedent of what a girl like me could do. No precedent of Afghan girls being class presidents. Of going on to become lawyers, leaders, and change-makers."

Encouraged by family and friends to inspire others, Axana Soltan ‘17 has been an activist on behalf of children around the world since she was a teen. The recent undergraduate commencement speaker at VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs founded Enhancing Children’s Living in 2013 “to be a humanitarian unit that ignites the lives of children living in destitution.” The organization provides access to meal nourishment, education, advocacy and medical care to children in the United States and beyond.

“I am so fortunate to be here,” said the native of Afghanistan, who came to the United States at age 10 with her family. “I am blessed to be a citizen. This country has given me so many opportunities, and I want to help those who aren’t as fortunate.” Noting that her native country has been at war for decades and remains one of the world’s poorest nations, Axana said, “Coming from there, I’ve been passionate about community service and helping people.”

In her Wilder graduation speech, Axana noted, “I’ve had a chance to witness the wildly different backgrounds that have brought so many of us here: a melting pot of religions and cultures, colors and languages, aspirations and dreams. Although we come from various walks of life, there is one force that’s driven us all together—education.”

Earlier this year, Enhancing Children’s Living assembled 72 backpacks of school supplies and presented each – with a rose – to students at Richmond’s Carver Elementary School near VCU. Previously ECL has sent backpacks to Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan. The support offered by her organization reflects Axana’s commitment to education, which her graduation speech acknowledged: “I knew that it was only through education that I could be the one to set the precedent, to make things better for the next little girl from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Palestine,” she said.

Axana joined the Honors College as a continuing student in the second semester of her freshman year. “I am grateful to the Honors College for providing me with tools and resources to succeed a in professional capacity,” she said. A criminal justice major, she plans a career in law. “I’m interested in working with juveniles or international law. I’m inspired by prosecutors who stand up for justice and help people,” she noted.