“I never planned on going to the University of Utah. This isn’t to say that I never planned on attending college—my parents would have never let that slide. But the U wasn’t in my plan.
Growing up, I was taught about the value of an education by my parents, who both never had the chance to get their degrees. My mom and dad both immigrated to this country when they were young. My father fled a war-torn Ethiopia as a refugee at the age of 15 and years later, as politics simmered, he went back and married my mother who came to the States at 18, while she was seven months pregnant with me.
As the first to be born outside of Ethiopia and the oldest of nine, there was a lot of pressure on my shoulders as I would be setting a precedent for whether the dream of higher education could be achieved. With this in mind, I really wanted to go out of state, because why would I stay in Utah? But after a rough junior and senior year of high school, I settled with the U, where I had no plans to stay.
The biggest reason I came here was that they waived my requirement to write an essay. My application was so easy—all I had to do was write my name and send it off. With high school ending the way it did, I entered college freefalling without a clear destination on where I wanted to go, who I wanted to be, and what I wanted to do.
To make matters even worse, I entered college broke and with no way to pay for it. I had $0 in scholarships and became very skeptical of how I would afford to put myself through four years of school, but I had to do it because this was bigger than just me. As I stepped foot on campus, I felt rushed with so many questions: How am I going to afford this? Can I transfer by next semester? How do I pick my major and am I really at the right school? But most importantly, why is every other person I meet from California and loves skiing?
Other than the dreadful cost of school hanging over my head and not having a major, I slowly fell in love with being in college and being at the U. The independence and space I had to discover myself was something I had never had experienced before. Living on campus, going to football games, and being a dumb freshman allowed me to experience life. Things were great, life was the best it had been in a while, and I felt that we all had begun the process of figuring out who we were.
The pandemic dramatically changed this trajectory. This was an exceptionally difficult part of my educational journey, but it was during this time that I finally realized I wanted to do a double major in political science and international studies, thanks to Professors like Brent Steele and advisors like Marshall Beach. It was during this time that I challenged myself outside of my education and with the help of the Hinckley Institute was able to complete seven internships, (five through Hinckley and two through the President’s Office at the University of Utah.)
Part of me wishes that we didn’t need to go through this hardship and chaos to find ourselves. Though some of my peers came out of the pandemic and successfully earned their degrees, others, through no fault of their own, did not.
As I celebrate the completion of my degree, I feel like I am one of the lucky ones. My dream is realized. I am not the same person I was four years ago. Through the pain and trauma I have experienced and shared with others, I have grown. I have found unity, strength and community with my peers and loved ones. As I enter this new phase of life, I am proud of what I did despite the impossible. I am proud to be the first.”