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Teen Perspective, a column on Muslim teen issues

August 2003

Class of 2003

by Shezena T. Mohammed

College graduation photo
Graduation is a major milestone in any student's life

When I enrolled in college, I had been homeschooled for a year and half and I felt I had earned my place in college. My parents made me do everything they could conceive and more. I did well on the entrance exam and signed up for just two classes in my first semester. I was strapped in and ready for the ride. I had to do it. I was confident, but it was a little scary to think I had make a commitment to these two classes and I really had to finish them.

My first semester was in the spring. At the end of the semester, I remember seeing a sign at a local store just down the street from my college saying, "Congratulations Class of 2001." I was so excited for them and wondered if I'd ever get to that point. I didn't know if I had the discipline.

While I was homeschooled, I just did whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I worked hard, but on my own schedule. "The Simpsons" was showing? No problem. I'd finish my work when the show was over. When I began at college, it wasn't on my schedule and I missed a whole lot of The Simpsons and everything else that was going on. It took a lot more discipline than I was used to. That attitude of mine was the problem, not the schoolwork.

The workload in that first semester of college was fine; I was doing less work than when I was homeschooling. But I didn't think I would survive the discipline.

Several classes, dozens of tests, just as many nights of cramming for them, and lots of encouragement later, I was finally at the end. It had come a lot sooner than I expected. In fact, it went by a little too quickly for comfort. Either way, I was finished and the best part was that I had a graduation to go to.

I was anxious about it. This would bring a great change. It was the end of a chapter in my life and the beginning of a new one. Not to mention, I was scared I was going to fall in front of everyone. I had fallen and twisted my ankle two weeks before and then the following week I fell again and twisted the same ankle even worse. I prayed I wouldn't fall for the third time on my graduation.

That week my anxiety was was also growing about the change. My grandmother and aunt were flying in from New York. They got a special cake and everything. The end of the week drew nearer and I could only think of what was to happen. It was like something big was going to happen and I could only wait. The suspense was killing me. My relatives had arrived and I had to go to a rehearsal for the graduation. I knew that graduation would bring a change in my life, but after the rehearsal my anxiety lessened and I began to feel that change was something to be excited about, not to be feared.

I saw my family that afternoon and spent the rest of the day with them. We made plans for tomorrow, my graduation day, and then I went to bed. I couldn't sleep. I thought of the experiences I had gained and the things I learned. My failures and successes. I thought, tomorrow means that I have succeeded at this. I had overcome that discipline problem I feared would hold me back.

I finally drifted into a light half sleep then woke up for Fajr. The day was here. It had finally come. The day I had waited two years for and devoted so many long hours of studying was finally here and maybe I'd see that "congratulations" sign for me. College seemed like such a dreamy place when I first started. I remembered imagining of all the things I would learn and people I would meet. In the end I learned more that I thought I would and I definitely met some strange and interesting people, but I also learned some unexpected lessons.

While now I don't remember a single chemistry equation, or why the Hundred Years' War started, or what kind of plants go into the phylum pterophyta, I do carry with me some important lessons that will stay with me the rest of my life. I learned not only discipline, but also patience and perseverance. I learned how to deal with failure and success. I even learned how to deal with less pleasant things like discrimination and harassment. I might not always have someone there to save me, and I learned how to deal with that. I learned how to deal with all kinds of people. There was a much bigger variety of people there than what I thought there would be. I expected everyone to be 20-something and mostly male but I was surprised to find seventy year old people there and that women were the majority. I had classes in which everyone was a woman.

I learned to deal with people who were rude or mean and people who were so annoying they made me want to cry. I dealt with bad lab partners and unfair teachers and people who would try to make things particularly easy for me because of how I looked. I learned how to deal with it.

I learned how to speak my mind even if I was in a room with fifty other people and nobody else agreed with me, and to be a mature responsible adult. Even though when I began college I wasn't even old enough to drive, I did the things that were expected of me.

The most important thing I learned was to keep my religion no matter what. I never thought what a test it could be just to be in college when it comes to my deen and iman. I learned to overcome anything that challenged my religion. It was not a compromise, it was just something I had to deal with and that was it. The tests weren't only in the classroom.

I thought about all of this while I was getting ready and driving to graduation hall. It really changed me in a much different way that I thought it would. It changed my perspective on being Muslim. I wasn't Muslim just part time while I was in college. It was a full time job that I must keep. So easily one could forget her purpose in this life, and do whatever she wanted in the heat of the moment, but it took something I never had to put out before to remember that it was my obligation to be Muslim before anything else. It made me a better person because of it, Insha'Allah. It made me stronger. The challenges to my religion made me hold on to it even tighter.

I finally reached the graduation hall. I grabbed my gown and hat and made my way to my assigned area. I was excited and nervous at the same time. This was the end of this chapter in my life and the beginning of a new one. I would be going to a new college soon and off to bigger and better things. I was also a little sad. My years as a freshman and sophomore were gone just like that.

But I had to concentrate on the matter at hand - I was going to graduate! I went in to see hundreds of happy people in gowns chattering and bustling around. I congratulated some friends and classmates and then found where I was supposed to be. I still wasn't wearing my gown and cap, so I put on my gown and then I found that was all I knew how to put on. There was a sash type thing I was putting on backwards and my cap wasn't staying on and just when I was thinking, how did I get here if I can't even put some clothes on right, a man in a doctoral gown came up to me, fixed what I was doing and said to me,

"I want to congratulate you specifically for being here. You have made it here under your own terms and you succeeded. I congratulate you for that and I want you to know, you bring a whole new meaning to wearing this gown."

He said that to me?! I was so shocked. I had seen him around during my time there but never took any particular notice of him. But I guess he noticed me. My heart swelled when I heard that and I thanked Allah SWT for giving me the strength to do it.

Finally they called us out, made their speeches, and began calling the names. They called my row to go and I saw my family and friends gushing with pride on my way to the stage. I thanked Allah again and got ready. It seemed like forever I stood there waiting for my turn to come and them to call my name. Then they finally did and I walked up and got my diploma (and I didn't fall). I heard in the background what sounded like a football stadium and then I realized it was my friends and family cheering for me. I blushed as they took pictures and then I got back to my seat. I couldn't believe what I was holding in my hands and what I had done. I felt so blessed I was able to do it. I was so happy and I felt something I had never truly felt before: accomplished.

After the graduation and all the pictures, kisses and commotion with my family, my parents pulled me aside to talk to me. They told me how proud they were and what an accomplishment I just made. Their first born child just got a degree in college. I think my mother was happier than I was. I thought once again of all the obstacles I had overcome and what I did to get there. I saw a sign on a nearby church that said, "The tassel was worth the hassle." I thought it definitely was worth it just to see my parents so happy. We all separated to our cars to meet at home. I smiled as I hung my tassel on the rear view mirror and as I was driving home I saw that store I had seen two years ago, and as if it were just for me, the sign read, "Congratulations Class of 2003!"

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