In 2016, Lisa Kamal left Malaysia to the United States on a Petronas scholarship to pursue her dream of studying in a college there, as her parents did
More than 9,000 miles from home and four years later, she was given the honour to be the student speaker on behalf of the graduating class at their commencement ceremony.
According to NBC15, Lisa addressed a crowd of more than 7,000 people, including the 1,200 University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) students who were about to receive their bachelor's, masters, and doctoral degrees.
The graduates were joined by over 6,000 family members, friends, and other supporters in the Kohl Centre on Sunday morning, 15 December.
Lisa kicked off her speech with her own rendition of a song from the famous Broadway musical 'Hamilton'
"Raise a glass to freedom. Raise a glass to all of us. Telling the story of today," she sang with a smile.
"Listening to the 'Hamilton' soundtrack became my coping mechanism that would get me through the day," Lisa shared, as quoted by Winconsin State Journal.
She said students are constantly juggling their academic and personal lives while working towards the promise of a great future, but even then, there is much to be proud of.
"There are everyday human experiences that give weight and substance to this certificate you are about to receive," she told her fellow graduates, reported The Badger Herald.
"Every sacrifice, every bit of energy you dragged out of you every morning - even if all you managed to do was scratch the bare minimum. You are graduating today. You did enough and I am proud of you. I am immensely proud of you."
Lisa admitted that she went through a tough patch during her second year in her chosen major of Geology
"My second year in college, I suffered burnout to the point of losing motivation to finish this degree," she said in her speech, going on to share her struggles.
However, support at school got her through those times.
"I could not have finished college without the friends that I made here," Lisa said, adding with a laugh, "They got me through a lot of late nights at the library."
Her resilience paid off as Provost Karl Scholz introduced her impressive college career during the ceremony
According to UW-Madison News, she was awarded a 2019 Hilldale Undergraduate Research Fellowship, the university's top research grant, to pursue her studies in electron microprobe analysis.
She was also given an 'On To the Future' award for under-represented students in geosciences from the Geological Society of America.
Outside of her major, she excelled at her electives and extracurricular activities in performing arts, especially dance classes. With the Malaysian Students' Association, she also helped bring back Malaysian Night in the campus and invigorated the event with her performances.
Her parents, who travelled 23 hours to get there and braved the winter cold, said it was all worth it and that they were extremely proud of her
"I remember when she was performing when she was six years old, performing a small dance, it had me crying. But now at 22, giving a speech for a crowd on a big screen, that's amazing," her father, Mustapha Kamal, said.
Equally grateful, Lisa said she is thankful for the experience and opportunities she had.
"I just want to say thank you to the school, thank you to the Department of Geoscience, and to everyone who got me here today, I'm just so grateful," she said.
According to NBC15, Lisa will be heading back to Malaysia to complete her five-year work commitment with Petronas.