Congratulations Faizan!

Faizan was also accepted to UT Austin and Rice University. Although he was rejected from Harvard, we think his essay is well worth sharing and should serve as encouragement for students who are disappointed with their admissions results. Getting rejected from a highly competitive school does not mean that you are not a highly competitive applicant and more importantly, does not mean you lack intelligence, passion, or motivation. Sometimes it’s just not the right fit. Oftentimes there are factors that go into your specific admissions decision that we will never know. Rejection is just one part of life that we all experience and all must get used to. It’s never fun, but it does make us stronger!

After a grueling scrimmage, I trudged off the muddy field with helmet in hand. As I wiped a bead of blinding sweat from my temple, I saw it: “SAND-NIGGER” hastily painted across my locker.


When I moved from Bangladesh at four-years-old, I was welcomed — well, tackled — by American football in all its Texan glory. The organized chaos of expressive grunts and collective roars from the sidelines needed no translation; everyone spoke the same tongue under the Friday Night Lights. I felt at home — protected, even. Now, looking at the jagged blood-red letters dripping before me, the locker-room suddenly felt like a warzone rather than the sweaty sanctuary I once cherished.


After the incident, I sat alone on the empty benches, feeling dejected and disillusioned as I waited for my parents to pick me up. Should I tell Coach? Unsure of how to respond without causing further conflict, I kept my head down.


A few weeks later, a heavy afternoon rain washed away my disillusionment, leaving compassion in its wake. After my post-practice trek back to the locker-room, I noticed my teammate Keilan slouching in silence as he peeled off his mud-stained jersey.  Contrasting his usual loud energy, his eyes instead sunk dolefully to the ground. Initially, I was hesitant to risk something worse than letters painted on my locker. Potential conflict aside, I couldn’t ignore his visible pain, and reflexively asked him what was wrong. Through angry stutters, he slowly revealed his story: his father was absent, his mother drug-addicted, and he was struggling to care for his six-year old brother.


His story resonated with me. I told him about how I too had to care for my brother as my father sought medical treatment abroad and my mother worked to keep us financially afloat in his absence. I urged him to carry the leadership and persistence he demonstrated on the field into his own household, focusing on his strengths rather than his flaws. For the first time since the incident, he looked me in the eyes. His softened gaze said it all; empathetic communication can bridge even the widest gaps. 


Equipped with this newfound awareness, I approached Kyler – the teammate responsible for painting those divisive letters on my locker – the following Friday night. After a tough loss, we were the last two in the locker-room. 


“I’m not mad at you,” I said, puncturing the tension. He looked at me.


Hoping that my own vulnerability would encourage him to share the reasons for his actions, I opened up about how my family and I had been subject to similar racially charged attacks for years. I told him how my mother, in a post-9/11 America, was forced to remove her hijab in order to find employment. 


Hearing my struggles, he felt compelled to reveal his own. His father, an African American, was shot by a white officer before he was born, preparing him for a life painfully aware of any potential racial tension. I recognized his aggressive actions were driven by fear rather than genuine resentment. Through sharing my story and finding common ground between us, I showed him that our differences were merely surface level.


Although I decided to hang up my helmet the following year, I carry my locker-room lessons with me everywhere I go. From how I resonate with judges through humanized debate arguments to how I connect with film audiences by composing relatable scripts, I use vulnerability to bridge divides within every field (pun intended).


Communication is a contact sport. The locker-room is simply a microcosm of our society. From helmets to hijabs, to improve our world we must actively seek to understand each other and embrace our commonalities. After all, we’re all on the same team.

Rice is lauded for creating a collaborative atmosphere that enhances the quality of life for all members of our campus community. The Residential College System is heavily influenced by the unique life experiences and cultural traditions each student brings. What personal perspectives would you contribute to life at Rice? (500 word limit)*


I love icebreakers. In elementary school, my go-to icebreaker fun fact was, “my parents are best friends!” Despite the inevitable confused look on my peers’ faces, I explained how, in Bangladeshi culture, the prevalence of arranged marriages makes love marriages very unorthodox (in a way, my parents broke their own ice!). For me, though, my parents’ story inspires me to break more than ice; it motivates me to break social norms for the pursuit of unity. 


As a Muslim-American, I grew up struggling to reconcile my heritage with my community. In a post-9/11 America, expressing Islamic pride and aspiring for the American Dream seemed mutually exclusive. Especially at my school, where socioeconomic status and cultural background predetermined “cliques,” I struggled to “break the ice” between my community and me.


After my sophomore year, I received a unique opportunity to document an often invisible, yet urgent issue on Rohingya refugee camps: the mental health of refugees. For me, the opportunity was more than just a research project. It was a chance to rediscover myself: observing refugees’ emotional state in their environment could teach me to adjust to my own.


The experience was brutal. Thousands of men, women, and children were visibly hopeless, searching for lost family members and friends. However, one particular child, Mustafa, was distinctively memorable. We met in his cottage, the walls covered with his colorful paintings and art. I learned that he was fifteen (like me) and fled Myanmar after painting an Islamic mural on the wall of a government building. On different degrees, we shared many internal struggles; back in Myanmar, Mustafa lost touch with his Muslim identity because of the social connotation around it. He told me how his mural was more than just an act of defiance – it was an attempt to solidify his identity by expressing its beauty. For Mustafa, the mural was his icebreaker.


Mustafa’s story resonated with me on a personal level. He inspired me to bridge gaps with others by pridefully expressing my own culture. After returning home, I took the initiative. I started making short films to visually display the beauty of my heritage and customs to others. I used debate as a platform to advocate for equal treatment. Even in my school’s Muslim Students Association, I pushed to change the “Muslims-only” rule for activities and meetings. If we were going to stop perpetuating this toxic cycle of Islamophobia, we had to stop isolating and start expressing ourselves. 


I learned how bridging gaps between communities requires expressing our cultures unapologetically. Uniting my Muslim community with my American one also helped reconcile my internal identities. I am now, in its purest form, a proud Muslim-American. 


Despite Houston’s well-known diversity, self-segregation is a visible norm among different groups. In this environment, it’s imperative to use our cultures as icebreakers, sharing them with others without fear of judgment. With fellow Owls or between ethnic communities, I hope to carry my affinity for icebreakers into Rice University.


There is a breadth of intellectual opportunities here at Rice. Further explain your intended major and other areas of academic focus you may explore. (150 word limit)*


The US is separated from my home country, Bangladesh, by over 3500 nautical miles; the difference in perspectives is just as great. In studying Social Policy Analysis, I hope to understand these differences and how they affect cultural and political relationships. 


With the Rice Social Policy institute’s emphasis on interdisciplinary studies, I hope to suffuse my studies with greater psychological nuance in order to understand nations’ governments, peoples, and conflicts. When I cannot find intellectual solace in a textbook, I can visit Rice Cinema to watch a community’s culture, rather than hear about it. 


In one of Texas’s most gerrymandered districts, Rice also prepares me to understand how political differences shape social interaction. In the age of polarization, compromise is necessary for collective progress. Be it running for student government or working with Professor Brace through the Century Scholars Program, my political career to do so can begin at Rice. 


What aspects of the Rice undergraduate experience inspired you to apply? (150 word limit)*


My first “Why Rice” moment came when I read Kinder Institute’s article: Refugee Realities. I marveled at the detailed analysis of refugee settlements and was struck by the unique tone of compassion.


When I visited the campus, I discovered the source of that compassion: the Rice community. I was welcomed by students who shared their zealous college pride as they directed me to Fondren Hall. The name tags on the dorms displayed Rice’s diversity, and my second “Why Rice” moment came when I realized I could become part of a small campus that welcomes a multitude of cultures. I also witnessed students from different disciplines working together and yearned to participate in collaborative undergraduate research. Of course, I’ll save my competitive spirit for intramural football.


One day, at Rice, I hope to write articles on subjects that pique my interests rather than just cite them in debate.

Briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work or family responsibilities. (50-150 words)*


Congressional Debate encourages me to humanize complex and polarizing issues by considering the human implications of the statistics I am citing. Whether arguing against stricter refugee limits or in favor of green innovation, my advocacy has always gone deeper than the substantiation on my legal pad. 


More importantly, debate has taught me to make my voice heard. From my elementary school playground to my high-school hallways, I struggled to speak up against the oppression that I faced for years after moving to this country. Debate has inspired me to actively seek compromise and change against societal problems like this. Though Congress is centered around representing constituents from our districts, it’s been a platform for me to represent much more. Be it my refugee grandparents in Bangladesh or my Muslim community here in America, I am motivated to constantly challenge injustice. 


What is the most significant challenge that society faces today? (50 word limit)*


The hyper-materialistic digital world we live in often causes us to unwittingly neglect our mental health. With the rise of apps like Instagram, constant comparison often yields feelings of inadequacy. I am eager to contribute to the genesis of virtual safe spaces that promote awareness and discussion of internal experiences.


How did you spend your last two summers? (50 word limit)*


In Bangladesh,  I researched the mental health of Rohingya refugees and helped build a school whose walls are now covered with kids’ paintings and poetry. In America, I competed at debate nationals, studied global violence at Notre Dame, acted in an award-winning short film, and conquered my fear of water.


What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed? (50 word limit)*


Despite a culture of arranged marriages and spousal visas, my parents were best friends before getting married. Their story represents more than just true love; it motivates me to overcome social norms in my pursuit of happiness. I wish I could’ve donned my kurtha and witnessed my parents ceremonial vows.


What five words best describe you?*


Deep conversations with Uber drivers.


When the choice is yours, what do you read, listen to, or watch? (50 word limit) *


N.W.A — America’s famous rule-breakers, and the most influential rappers of all time. 


Shakira — Houston’s Hispanic heritage inspired me to take Spanish in high school.


Binging With Babish — a crossroads of cuisine and cinematography.


MSNBC, Fox, The Onion — two satirical news sources, and one reliable one, respectively.


Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford. (50 word limit) *


I am eager to get involved with the Stanford Storytelling Project. Writer’s Studio workshops like “Building Community with Story” and “Writing the Translingual Voice,” one-to-one mentorship through StoryLab, and courses like “Documentary Fictions” will provide me with the opportunity to hone my artistic voice (and snag a few free snacks).


Imagine you had an extra hour in the day — how would you spend that time? (50 word limit).*


In middle school, my friends and I wrote, directed, and acted in several short films. From Flowers Blooming to Bearded Nightmare, our films were our voice. With an extra hour, I would create my next short film Sleeping Through the American Dream on the experience of first-generation immigrant teenagers.


The Stanford community is deeply curious and driven to learn in and out of the classroom. Reflect on an idea or experience that makes you genuinely excited about learning. (100-250 words)*


At nine-years-old I still couldn’t understand a lick of English despite having already lived in America for five years. I remember complaining to my mom in Bangla, “এটা আমার জিহ্বায় ঠিক মনে হয় না”: “it just doesn’t feel right on my tongue.” As a result of my self-imposed linguistic barrier, I had to be socially perceptive, tuning into facial expressions, body language, and tone. Although I eventually gained English fluency, my perceptual skills have followed me throughout the course of my life. Today, reading people is a not-so-hidden talent that inspires me to tailor every interaction to my audience.


The worst advice I have ever received as a public speaker is to just “forget the audience is there.” For me, intellectual excitement lies in discovering the human element hiding in the depths of the abstract. As a debater, I customize tractible arguments that elicit emotions in my opponent. As a filmmaker, I frame stories that resonate with my target audience. As a friend, I provide nudges, laughs, and tear-welcoming shoulders based upon perceived needs.


I am excited to continue honing my perceptual skills as a member of Stanford’s diverse community. There is nothing more intellectually invigorating than gathering perspectives and predicting how those perspectives will play out in a variety of contexts. It is comforting to know that if I spontaneously forget how to speak English one day, I will still be able to understand the universal language of humanity.


Virtually all of Stanford’s undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate – and us – get to know you better. (100-250 words)* 


Hey man!


They say that being yourself is vital to any friendship, but there’s something you need to understand about me: I am the most myself when I am not myself at all. Simply put — I. Love. Impressions. 


When we first meet, I’ll greet you with my classic Texan-made Matthew McConaughey impression: firm handshake, soft smile, and a sly “alright, alright, alright”. When the room gets a bit messy, I’ll whip out my Barack Obama impression. With authoritative hand gestures, an assertive undertone, and thoughtful pauses, I promise we’ll both be motivated to do a ten-second tidy at the very least. Before a long day, I may use the shower as my 50’s jazz bar to release my inner Frank Sinatra. After all, there is no better alarm than Summer Wind. 


Of course, if things get tough, I’ll do my best to suppress the temptation to impersonate Dr. Phil. Both of us will have our rough days, and I hope that we can voice our emotions and console each other like Frodo and Sam do. I value communication over everything, and my many impressions are simply creative ways to talk it out.


Warmly,


Faizan:)


P.S. — If my Yoda impression ever I start, promptly stop me please do. I’ve been told it’s more confusing than entertaining.


Tell us about something that is meaningful to you and why. (100-250 words)*


Fueled by our disappointment in the lack of unity both within our high school and the greater Houston community, my friends and I started BackPAC, a non-partisan political action committee with the mission of raising political awareness and facilitating discourse among the youth demographic. In classroom #1588, we’ve hosted weekly discussions that bridge polar opposite viewpoints by fostering genuine listening and ensuring that everyone is given a voice.


As a club, we have managed to forge a fundamental agreement about the contentious issue of gun control: school safety should be the ultimate priority regardless of political stance. We’ve contacted state congressmen and legislators, pushing for school safety reform laws. After a year of countless calls and emails, students are now mandated to wear their IDs to school. Though progress has taken significant time and effort, this rule is a tangible step toward true reform and proof of the power working collectively to bring about impactful change.


After two years, BackPAC is the largest student-run political action committee in the country, spread across 25 states with over 100 chapters. By registering each of these chapters as official voter booths, we’ve increased voter registration among eligible high-schoolers by almost 400%. No matter how much we grow, however, the smallest interactions are still the most inspiring. A turban-wearing student shaking hands with a football player is enough to have made all of our efforts well worth it. After all, it’s more than just a handshake. It’s progress.

A single, dim light bulb hung from the dingy ceiling. Its flicker momentarily illuminated Eram’s face, revealing the powerful amber in her eyes. We sat at a stained folding table, discussing her life as a Rohingya refugee. She was sixteen, just like me, and had fled to Bangladesh after participating in a Muslim Women’s March against the Burmese government. Her parents were killed before her eyes, and her younger sister was missing.


Seven months earlier and 8,719 miles away, I peered over my father’s shoulder at his Bangladeshi newspaper on the kitchen table: “800,000 Rohingya Displaced, Millions More Dead.” I was astounded by this headline, but even more baffled by the fact that I hadn’t seen reports of this mass exodus to Bangladesh on any American news source. Every report that I could find on the Internet treated refugees as pieces of a larger political game.


I yearned for something beyond cold, hard statistics, and knew that in order to gain the human-level understanding of the issue I craved, I had to visit the refugee camps myself. I contacted the principal of Dhaka Medical College in Bangladesh, proposing a research project and promising to raise awareness of the refugee crisis in America. Two months later, I was on a plane to Kutupalong, a UNHCR camp.


When I first arrived, I exited a chipped, sky-blue rickshaw, and found myself standing at the top of a hill at the center of Kutupalong refugee camp. People were strewn across the muddy ground and their “homes” were nothing but pieces of rusty metal, splintered wood, and torn fabric stapled together. They drifted about with eyes fixed on the ground and shoulders drooping. 


It looked like the warzone the refugees had fled from had followed them to the camp. Anger kindled inside me at the sight of the deplorable conditions. Although I had always felt proud of my home country’s hospitality – the very hospitality that provided refuge for my grandfather in the 1950s – within seconds of arrival, that pride was extinguished by overwhelming guilt.


The first person I interacted with was a frail child of about seven years. His ribs poked out from beneath his skin, his clothes were shredded, and his eyes were lifeless. When I reached out to shake his hand, he held out both palms, thinking I was offering him food. I knew right away that he needed more than my privileged pity.


Had my parents not immigrated to America to escape growing tensions in Eastern Bangladesh, this could’ve been my life. Motivated by this realization, I embarked upon my proposed research question with vehemence: how do camp conditions affect the psychological development of Rohingya children?


In Dr. Masuma’s cramped wooden cottage, I set out to analyze the refugee children’s 82% mental health disorder rate through the lens of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, whilst grappling with the fact that the United Nations Higher Commission for Refugees could barely fulfill the baseline physiological tier. I learned that Dr. Masuma was one of only eight therapists on the entire site. With a total population of 120,000, there was one therapist for every 16,000 refugees. Moreover, most refugee children were unable to articulate their thoughts and emotions to the already scarce English-speaking therapists. My fluency in Bangla allowed me to conduct 6-10 informal interviews every day. The children told me about their missing family members, their inability to read or write, and their struggles with interacting with others in the camp. During these talks, I discovered the primary reason for the wide-spread depression was a lack of purpose and belonging, which was evident in the way the children aimlessly ambled around.


My interview with Eram was a pivotal moment for both my research and my own perspective. She was a painter. Her latest piece was a rally sign depicting a hijab, alongside the text “If you don’t fight for human rights, you don’t have the right to call yourself human.” She was recuperating from her exile from Myanmar, preparing to rejoin the fight for justice. Her glowing amber eyes exuded a hope that was hard to come by in the camp. I knew I had to find a way to spark the same resilient spirit in the other children.


The camp offered no intellectual opportunities or place of assembly, so I set out to transform Dr. Masuma’s cottage into a school. I designed an English as a Second Language (ESL) curriculum to foster communication between Bangla-speaking refugees and English-speaking UN agents. With the help of donated art supplies, I encouraged kids to exercise their imaginations. We watched classic Disney movies, learned how to throw frisbees, and danced to world music. Within a few weeks, the school found traction, creating a newfound sense of camaraderie.


I’ve kept up with the children ever since. A little over a year later, forty-five students have passed their first English diagnostic test and the walls of the school are now covered with colorful paintings and expressive poetry. Every other week I receive a photograph of the class — each new picture twinkles with bigger and brighter smiles as their eyes shine with hope.


My experience at the camp was far more than just a research project or an informative trip. Not only did it implant my interests in international affairs and psychology, but it also showed me the humans behind the cold statistics I’m used to encountering on the news. In my ambitions to fight for peace across the world, I now know who I’m fighting for instead of just what I’m fighting against. Whether I’m crafting a debate speech or joining a political rally, I’ll remember my conviction of fighting for human rights; Eram was right — it’s what makes me human.