I grew up in a loving Muslim community, sheltered from all the trials and tribulations that waited outside the Michigan bubble. I had my beloved brothers, parents, and friends to rely on for any need I had. But I have come to learn that I took for granted what I was born with. Only in the absence of these treasures have I come to appreciate what it meant to be a part of something much bigger than myself. I am like most Muslims you find in Flint, Michigan. I grew up in a conservative family with the goal of medicine laid before me. Just to give you some perspective, I heard about the MCAT before knowing what the SAT and ACT were.
I attended Islamic and public school prior to joining Grand Blanc Community High School. My Muslim friends and I found ourselves in a very alien environment. Talks of partying and drugs were all too common. But unfazed by this peculiar setting, I strived to be the best I could be and sure enough, I graduated as the valedictorian. It was a long, strenuous path but I was excited to see what was to come. During the college application period, almost all of my friends choose to attend University of Michigan, Michigan State University, or another school nearby. But I felt a bit ambitious and applied to the best universities this country had to offer. Looking at the acceptance rates of these elite institutions was daunting but I put my trust in Allah (swt) and his wisdom for my placement.
The days rolled by and with them came acceptance letters, and a few rejections. I was delighted to have gotten accepted to some of my top choices but April 1st, D-Day for applicants, had yet to come. I remember running to the computer at 5pm to see where I could spend the next four years. And there it was, the words “CONGRATULATIONS” in front of the backdrop of the golden tiger. I told my family and friends the great news. The next few weeks had to be the most introspective days of my life. Attending Princeton would mean I would be the first in my Muslim community to leave for undergrad and it would be the first time away from my triplet brothers. I did not know if I had the independence or the heart to leave all that I have ever known. Uncertainty has its way of enveloping your heart with unease. But I would be a fool not to accept this honor, right? My community was excited to see a Muslim going to such great heights but many of the elders encouraged me to stay close to home, away from notorious dorm life and what have you, for the sake of my religion. I do not blame them, I had trouble envisioning myself outside of home but I hoped attending Princeton Preview would bring clarity. So I left with my parents to see what Princeton had to offer.
I fondly remember touring campus mesmerized by what had to be the most beautiful campus there is supplemented with unfathomable opportunities and resources. Yet, I was still unsure how I, the most oblivious Muslim imaginable, would find a place on campus. How could I replace the community I was accustomed to? I went to jumaah where I first met our beloved chaplain, Imam Sohaib Sultan, and the MSA members who have become brothers and sisters to me. Witnessing the vibrant, cohesive MSA community, I was convinced that this would be my home for the next four years. As the summer came to a close, I realized that I had to depart that community that gave me everything. Tearful, I wished my friends and family farewell and began a new chapter in my life.
Leaving Michigan was by far the hardest thing I have done but choosing Princeton is a decision I will never regret. It is because of the resources that Princeton has granted me and, more so, the companions I have made that I pushed myself to measures beyond my scale and acknowledge that a healthy life is one led by service for those well beyond yourself. Wherever you end up, I pray you understand Allah (swt) has a plan for you. We humans are limited in our comprehension of the wisdom behind the events that befall us but understand that patience and an open mind will carry you further than the eye can see. Choosing your path is no easy task I assure you but I implore you to not be frightened from the unfamiliar. All of mankind’s monumental achievements were coupled with courage and curiosity and we need look no further than the blessed Prophet (pbuh) to see what faith and perseverance can afford us. I pray that this anecdote serves you well and pray for nothing but the best for you. Let me leave you with this comforting thought: You may leave home but home never leaves you.
All the best, -Jihad Aljabban