Ibtihaj Muhammad, advocate for religious tolerance and groundbreaking Olympic medalist, named Stanford Baccalaureate speaker

Muhammad, a Muslim American Olympian who "broke immense barriers," will speak at Baccalaureate, a multifaith celebration during Commencement Weekend 2019.

Ibtihaj Muhammad - an activist and entrepreneur whose participation in the Olympics helped make her a prominent voice for religious tolerance - has been named speaker for Stanford’s 2019 Baccalaureate.

The multifaith, end-of-the-year celebration for graduating students, their families and friends, and others in the university community will be held on June 15, the day before Stanford’s 128th Commencement ceremony.

Muhammad’s participation in fencing grew from her family’s desire for a sport she could play while fully covered, in keeping with their Muslim faith. At the Rio de Janeiro games in 2016, she became the first Muslim to wear a hijab while competing for the United States and won a bronze medal with the women’s sabre team. She was named to Time ’s 100 Most Influential People list that year.

"Although she has competed in a sport that focuses on the individual, Ibtihaj Muhammad has turned the spotlight on diverse American communities, inviting us to reconsider what it means to be part of this pluralist and, at times, fractured nation," said the Rev. Dr. Tiffany Steinwert, dean for religious life at Stanford. "Standing at the intersections of gender, religion and ethnicity, she inspires us all not only to break barriers, but also to build bridges. We are delighted to welcome her to campus and look forward to learning from her experience and wisdom."

The ceremony, led by students and organized by the Office for Religious Life, includes lively music from culturally diverse backgrounds and readings from various communities and perspectives that represent the wide range of religious traditions at Stanford.

"We are thrilled to have Ibtihaj Muhammad as the 2019 Baccalaureate speaker," said Stanford Senior Class Presidents Tashrima Hossain, Nick Peņa, Tony Moller and Aron Tesfai. "Having broken immense barriers to become the first Muslim American Olympian to win a medal in fencing, Muhammad teaches us the power of grit and resilience. She has utilized her platform to empower female athletes, encourage religious tolerance and inspire countless young people. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to hear from such an incredible change-maker during this year’s ceremony."

Muhammad, who began fencing at age 13, grew up in Maplewood, New Jersey, and attended Duke University. She graduated with a dual major in international relations and African studies, earned All-America honors three times and was a Junior Olympic National Champion.

She launched a clothing company in 2014 and serves as a sports ambassador with the U.S. State Department’s Empowering Women and Girls Through Sport Initiative. She described her experiences in Proud: My Fight for an Unlikely American Dream , her memoir published in 2018.

Stanford’s Baccalaureate service will be from 10 to 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 15. The following day, Apple CEO Tim Cook will speak at the Commencement ceremony. More details are available at the Commencement Weekend website.