When Aida Flores (COL ’08) first tore open her Georgetown acceptance letter, she was overjoyed. Flores knew she had finally achieved one of her dreams – she was going to college, and at one of the nation’s most prestigious universities.
Yet since that day, Flores has had to confront some major challenges that most students do not even think twice about. Coming from one of America’s roughest neighborhoods in inner-city Chicago, her high school education had not been as rigorous as that of many of her college-age peers and she knew it.
She also has a four-year-old daughter who had to stay at home with family members. Yet Flores knew what a special opportunity coming to Georgetown was.
“I was mature enough to know I might not have been as completely academically prepared as some of my peers,” she said. “In some of my classes I sometimes feel like I have to play catch-up, but seeing other people like me succeed has been such an inspiration.”
Flores knows she may continue to face stark challenges, but she is determined to be a top student and find her place on campus.
She credits the Center for Minority Educational Affairs for helping her make a sometimes-difficult transition easier and she says she is adjusting well to the challenges of university life.
She has not yet thrown herself into campus activities, but that is a choice Flores has made purposefully. She says she plans to get involved with activities that are truly meaningful to her and she is taking her time to find an organization in which she feels like she truly belongs.
Although Flores is doing well in classes and is confident of her success, her young daughter Deztinee is always foremost in her mind. Flores talks to her family nearly every day and has long conversations with Deztinee.
“I just try to have as much of a regular conversation with her as I can. I ask her about her day and I tell her all about my day,” she said. “One of the biggest things to tell her is that I love her and I’m always going to be there for her no matter what. She’s the most important thing in my life.”
Flores is not in college solely for her own betterment. She is here for her daughter’s future as well and that is what will motivate her to achieve ultimate success.
While Flores may still be searching to find exactly where she fits in at Georgetown, Vanessa Washington (COL ’08) thinks she might have it all figured out.
As soon as she arrived at the university, the Bronx, N.Y., native threw herself into on-campus activities, including two dance groups – Groove Theory and Black Movements. She is also an active participant in the DC Reads tutoring program.
Washington attended the prestigious Deerfield Academy and had a feeling that she was well-prepared for the academic rigors of college. She was right. So far, she is fitting in well and excelling in her classes. She has a diverse network of friends who have helped make the college transition easier.
“I’m just getting to meet so many different people and enjoying learning about different things,” she said. “For me, college has been about making deep connections with others.”
With the success she has experienced so far, Washington is sure the rest of the year will be fine. She knows she might have a typical freshman propensity to stretch herself too thin, which might be one of her biggest challenges this year.
“I have to stay on top of my work and manage my schedule, and right now I’m at a point where things really are manageable,” she said. “My real goal for this year is to just do the best I possibly can and have fun, too.”
Washington is continuing to adjust to the rigors of college life. She laughingly said that she expected college to sometimes be a “cruel and harsh world.” Things certainly have been neither cruel nor harsh, and she continues to explore new interests. As she puts it, she is focused on just “soaking everything in.”
Washington has no complaints so far. She has loved her Georgetown experience and her deep involvement with the on-campus community has made her feel like this is where she belongs.
“Now that I’m so involved at this school, I feel like I’m really a part of things,” she said. “Georgetown has gone above and beyond what I expected and I love everything about it here.”
The Bronx is only a four-hour drive from Washington, but Farooq Tirmizi (SFS ’08) is thousands of miles away from his friends and family in Karachi, Pakistan. It is expensive to call them, so Tirmizi keeps in touch with them through the Internet and e-mail.
Despite a bit of homesickness, Tirmizi is already standing out at Georgetown. He is passionate about getting involved in university life and he has found a tight-knit community on his dorm room floor where he experienced a night to remember last week.
“After the presidential debate we had a huge debate of our own,” he said. “Everybody was so into it and that made it such a fun time.”
It is the intense intellectualism of Georgetown that attracted Tirmizi here and he has not been disappointed.
Although he says he expected a stronger culture of organized debate, Tirmizi has few complaints about the university so far.
He is involved in a broad range of activities, from the Philodemic Society to the International Relations club, and is greatly enjoying it.
“I didn’t really know what to expect coming into college but it’s pretty much the same thing we did in high school in Pakistan. We work, study and hang out,” he said.
As a devout Muslim from an Islamic country, Tirmizi has had to deal with a variety of stereotypes from curious students. He has not shied away from confronting them head on.
“A lot of Americans seem to believe what the Bush administration tells them. Some of it is true but a lot of it is not,” he said. “The one thing that really gets to me is when people say the Islamic world hates America for its freedom. I can tell you for a fact that nobody believes that. We all value freedom.”
Despite the stereotypes he has had to face, Tirmizi has been amazed by the openness of the student body. He says that the Georgetown students he has met have had a “remarkable mechanism where they can bring out real differences in people without getting defensive about it.”
After spending a few minutes with him, it is obvious that Tirmizi is an expert at using his vast international experience to help him adjust to his new environment. His father was a Navy officer and he has traveled the world. Yet it has only been a month and Tirmizi knows this is the only place in the world he would want to be right now.
“All I can say is it was a 28-hour flight and 20,000 miles around the world to get here but it was worth it,” he said.