When I consider the past few years I’ve
spent at the University of North Florida, I think about an inclusive and caring
environment where students are free to be themselves and create a path toward
what they want to do in life.
means a lot to me, considering the tough experiences I had growing up as a
Muslim in America in the shadow of the terror attacks Sept. 11. Acceptance was
something that was often lacking in my early school years. At 9
years old, I didn’t even know what a terrorist was, but insults and threats were
still directed my way by classmates. That treatment became so difficult to bear
that I transferred to an Islamic school soon after. I started wearing the
traditional head covering, or hijab, while I was there, but I still encountered
discrimination from people in the community.
At UNF, I’ve never experienced any of
that negative treatment. I’ve always felt like a welcomed member of the campus
community. From my professors to my fellow students, everyone has been
supportive and respectful. It’s the perfect environment for me, and I’m glad I
had the opportunity to further my education here. However, college didn’t
always seem like a definite.
My mother wasn’t able to pay for me to go
to college, so it was unclear if I’d be able to afford getting a degree without
going into serious debt. But UNF and The Jacksonville Commitment scholarship fund
were there to ensure I could attain my higher education goals without taking
out big loans.
Any of the other state schools I applied
to would have left me in debt. UNF, on the other hand, provided for my
education. My decision was even easier to make since UNF was my first choice thanks
to the busy and beautiful campus.
Looking back, my decision seems even
smarter because of all the amazing hands-on learning opportunities I’ve had with
different causes, clubs and organizations. My high school experience wasn’t
filled with many extracurriculars because I was always working jobs after
school to bring money home. But at UNF,
I wanted to get involved as much as possible and leave an on-campus legacy. I’m
a member of the Pre-Law Student Society, I worked to bring back the Muslim
Student Association and have served on a number of campus-wide advisory
committees. Out of all of my experiences, working with Student Government has
been my favorite activity on campus. I’ve been able to help allocate funds for
clubs and campus groups and help positively impact the community.
My plan is to graduate in four years while
raising my GPA enough that I would have a shot at being accepted into Harvard
University for law school. That’s a goal that I never would have even allowed
myself to consider a few years ago. My time at UNF has helped greatly in building
up my confidence and my belief in myself. All of my extracurricular activities
have shown me that I can have a big impact on my surroundings and truly make a
difference in the lives of others.
When I was first getting accustomed to
the college environment, I often thought of a lesson my mother taught me when I
was younger. She said “never leave a situation in a worse state than when you
found it.” I took that saying to heart, and I’ve worked to leave a positive
impact on campus. Whether that’s through my work with Student Government or the
time I put in to bringing back the Muslim Student Association, I can say that
I’ll leave behind a part of myself at UNF when I graduate. And UNF is the kind
of school where a student can gain valuable experiences and come into their own
as a person. That’s what it’s all about.