When I found out I got into Georgetown University, my mom and I held each other and sobbed our eyes out in my bed. We both felt the weight of a world come off us: her world of constantly trying to prove her worth to an often misogynistic Arab society and my world of proving to her that I am the right custodian for her unfulfilled aspirations.
We sat and cried because we knew how special it was for an Arab girl to get into a top-tier American university. My parents lived in Damascus, Syria, for their whole lives, leaving once I was born. Despite systemic problems of underdevelopment, brutality and censorship that plagued the country, what touched my mom the most were issues of sexism within society.
Even among the well-educated in Syria, many people believed that women are less valuable investments than men, that they would amount to less than men in life and that their role in society should be restricted to child rearing and housekeeping. Until she was married and moved to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, the place where I spent most of my life, my mom had few opportunities to make something of herself on her own terms.
Because of these deeply entrenched norms of gender disparity, it is an exception rather than a rule that Arab women are encouraged to pursue an education and career abroad. Though great strides have been made in empowering Arab women, it was only one generation ago that my grandfather did not allow my mom to study outside of Syria simply because she was a woman.
By coming to Georgetown, I certainly broke a boundary within my family, but also within Arab culture to an extent. I arrived at Georgetown with that perspective firmly etched in my mind and made sure I never lost sight of it. Weighing the value of my own empowerment, I embraced what Georgetown had to teach me about helping others break their boundaries, too.
The point of being a Hoya, in my mind, is to break boundaries for yourself and to empower others to do so as well. I was drawn to Georgetown for its promise to turn us into men and women in service of others, helping those who are the most marginalized or disadvantaged in our society to surmount some of the obstacles ahead of them.
Many of us, by virtue of coming from underrepresented backgrounds, are breaking ground just by attending and succeeding at Georgetown. All of us, however, are challenged to lift up society by helping the marginalized or oppressed elevate themselves. To be a man or woman for others is to help those struggling to break the barriers impeding them.
In the flurry of consulting recruitment or the classic freshman project of applying to every competitive club possible, it is all too easy to forget that Georgetown is meant to foster a larger project of self-development, challenging us to better ourselves, other individuals and society at large.
I played my part in empowering others in different ways during my time on the Hilltop. I tutored low-income elementary school children with D.C. Reads, planned community service fundraisers for my sorority and took humanities classes that pushed me to think about the world around me and how I can serve it.
When I walk across the graduation stage in May, it will be for my mom. Moreso, it will be for myself, knowing that I am not the first and certainly not the last Arab woman to achieve this feat. I also know that I will be ready to serve any underprivileged, marginalized or underrepresented group, just as Georgetown taught me to do.
Tala Alrajjal is a senior in the College.