WYE MILLS – Sofiah Ali’s immigrant journey began in the Philippines and is the reason behind her success.
Ms. Ali, a Stevensville resident, is a biology major and aspiring medical researcher. On May 14, she will be honored with the John T. Harrison Award, the highest student honor at Chesapeake College.
A first-generation college student, Ms. Ali will receive her associate’s degree along with 300 other graduates and will deliver her acceptance speech to them Wednesday. President and CEO of University of Maryland Shore Regional Health Ken Kozel will deliver the commencement address.
A 2016 graduate of Kent Island High School, Ms. Ali has a cumulative 4.0 Grade Point Average. Since enrolling at Chesapeake, she has been on the Dean’s List every semester. As an Honors Program student, Ms. Ali completed four Honors Contract projects during her time at Chesapeake.
Ms. Ali, 20, was a semi-finalist for the prestigious national Jack Kent Cooke Transfer Scholarship this year and was a 2017 nominee for the NCHC Portz Award. She is an active member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and participated in recruitment drive that significantly boosted membership.
This record of success if part of a long journey that began more than 15 years ago.
Parents Farzand and Aileen Ali, brought Ms. Ali and her sister Shavanah to Maryland as very young children. This is the only home that Ms. Ali has ever known.
“I don’t remember living in the Philippines, so the United States is what I know. I’ve always had a great sense of pride in my background and where I came from. But when I was younger, because of the influences of my peers, I felt the need to quickly assimilate with those around me,” Ms. Ali said. “I tried to hide something that was an integral part of my identity, I was embarrassed of who I was and the differences I had compared to everyone else. As a result, I began to feel detached from my parents and my culture because of who I was trying to be. Now that I’m older, I realize how silly that was. My differences are what sets me apart from those around me.”
Faculty and staff at Chesapeake say that Ms. Ali’s dedication and drive set her apart.
Ms. Ali works a full schedule at Ledo Pizza on Kent Island while she maintains her perfect GPA at Chesapeake. This semester, she is taking 21 credits. She also volunteers her time with Youthline Eastern Shore Crisis Center.
She was the first-place winner in the Spring 2017 Honors Poster Exhibition and earned a trip to the National Collegiate Honors Council Conference in Atlanta last fall.
On the honors trip, Ms. Ali had the opportunity to visit the Centers for Disease Control. Ms. Ali said she was inspired by both the history and mission of CDC. She hopes to conduct medical research in the future that can be used to improve lives around the globe.
Chesapeake faculty cited, among many attributes, Ms. Ali’s extraordinary work ethic when recommending her for the Harrison Award.
“My mother and father always wanted me to achieve the American Dream. Like millions of other immigrant parents, they left their home country to establish a new life—a better life—for my sister and me. They had sacrificed everything they’d ever known—their language, family, friends, and jobs—in hopes that the new life they sought out for us would open doors to opportunities they never had. From the moment I entered Pre-K until now, I made sure I worked hard in all of my endeavors so that everything they had to give up on would one day be worth it,” Ms. Ali said. “I felt the need to prove myself and work twice as hard. I was not going to hold myself back from living a life without purpose. The tears I once shed out of hopelessness have been replaced with hope and motivation for my life-long ambitions.”
In nominating his student for the Harrison Award, Phi Theta Kappa faculty advisor Jeremy Crowe described Ms. Ali as one of Chesapeake’s great assets.
“Sofiah is an excellent student, an excellent human being and she will bring prestige to this college as an alumna. She is the daughter of immigrants who instilled in Sofiah the importance of hard work, perseverance and kindness. Her Pakistani and Filipino heritage brings diversity to our campus, and you won’t meet a friendlier student Skipjack,” said Associate Professor Jeremy Crowe.
Ms. Ali said that she hopes her Commencement will be as rewarding for her parents as it is for her.
“I’m eternally grateful for their decision and everything that they had to sacrifice. Although at times, the obstacles we would be presented with are enough to lose hope, I will never forget the things they had to give up on just for the sake of my sister and me. All of their blood, sweat, and tears will one day be exchanged for a better life when my sister and I will be able to one day take care of them the way they did for us,” she said.
Ms. Ali will pursue a bachelor’s degree this fall at either the University of Maryland or Tufts University. She plans to major in molecular biology with the goal of earning a doctorate and becoming a medical researcher.