Class of 2015
Maryland, United States
When her friends convinced her to audition for the annual school play about the September 11 World Trade Center attack, Amel was nervous. As a Muslim American, she personally remembered the tense period after the attack and was not sure she was ready to tackle such an emotionally laden subject.
Amel took the stage amid heated scenes in which actors portrayed the rage, sorrow, and fear following the devastation. Then, quietly at first and building steam as she began to identify with her role, Amel gave voice to the perspective of a Muslim American, portraying the same sadness and sense of loss as her peers but with the added fear of reprisal and discrimination.
"I think it's still something American Muslims have to face, which is why I'm involved in interfaith efforts at our mosque. I firmly believe that if you give people the opportunity to know you, a lot of that fear is erased."
With this principle of openness in mind, Amel invited people from the non-Muslim community, including members of the local police force, to a series of iftars, evening dinners that break the daytime fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. With her youth group, she also reached out to area churches to talk with Christian children about Islam. "It definitely takes trust in yourself and others to stand before a group of strangers and represent your community, but I think I gave a positive image of Islam to a lot of people."
On a trip to Sudan, the country of her parents' birth, Amel experienced a role reversal when she was once again called upon to represent her community—this time as an American. She accompanied her cousin to an English class at a Sudanese cultural center, and, when the instructor realized she was a native speaker, she was drafted to lead a two-week discussion group.
"I was teaching college graduates, and I wasn't sure they would respect me, a younger American who had experienced an entirely different set of opportunities," she says. At the end of the two weeks, Amel was looked up to as a leader and to this day keeps in touch with her students, helping them with their English and their job applications via Facebook.
When it came time for Amel to consider her own future, opportunities abounded in the form of acceptance letters and scholarship offers from a host of colleges and universities, among them Harvard and NYU Abu Dhabi. Deciding which offer of admission to accept was difficult because Amel's family had a variety of opinions. After she attended both Prefrosh at Harvard and Candidate Weekend at NYU Abu Dhabi, Amel formed her own opinion and made her choice.
"Academically, NYU Abu Dhabi is clearly as rigorous and selective as the Ivies, but what stands out is NYU's vision of a truly global education. No other school has such a definite viewpoint." When she met some of the other NYU Abu Dhabi students in person, her decision was cemented.
"I know that in three years, when the first class graduates, there will be a lot of organizations watching, and that will open doors for all of us who follow," says Amel, who hopes to attain a career with the United Nations or the US Foreign Service, possibly in the Middle East, where she can commit her professional life to advocating for others.