Reflecting On My MIT Graduation 10 Years Later


Ten years ago exactly, I graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That day formed a huge deal to me, and I remember it as though it transpired yesterday. My parents and younger brother flew out from Los Angeles to attend the momentous occasion, and the weather that weekend couldn’t have been more hospitable for a city that is typically inundated with chilling precipitation.


Friday, June 5, 2009, marks my graduation from MIT


MIT was the culmination of every academic dream I had entertained since high school. I had shied away from applying there for the undergraduate program because it was so far from home – on the opposite coast of the United States – and at 17, I wasn’t quite ready to make that leap.

But while at the University of California, I never lost sight of my dream. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever wanted anything more. I strove so hard to maintain a perfect GPA so that I could assure admission to the world’s most prestigious engineering school. I didn’t realize it until the fall semester of my senior year, when my class rank was solicited on college applications, but I went on to graduate at the top of the entire school of engineering at UC Irvine, comprising nearly 1,200 students. That feat alone not only fetched me entrance to MIT but a rare Presidential Fellowship to boot, awarded to only two admitted students per discipline across the university. And the Department of Mechanical Engineering is one of the largest by sheer volume of student enrollment at MIT.

So toward the end of August 2007, my dad and I flew out to Boston on a redeye flight. A full week of pre-semester festivities had been lined up both on and off campus to acquaint us with student life, the city, and Massachusetts. I immediately fell in love with Cambridge: the Charles River bordering campus for nearly a mile. The walk into Boston, with its perfectly parallel streets and alphabetized street names. My studio “efficiency” at the graduate residence Sidney Pacific, a seven-minute walk from Building 1. Yes, everything at MIT is numbered, from the buildings to the disciplines to the courses. It’s a number-centric institution, but that’s no surprise.

I finally felt like I was in my element. Boston is a historic city that pulsates with students, intellectuals, and cultural enthusiasts. It unites people from all around the world, celebrating every culture, creed, race, and ethnicity. On my first day there, I met students from Lebanon, Morocco, France, China, and India. In fact, the graduate student population is heavily international. You couldn’t find a richer melting pot.

Many students have scarring experiences at MIT, a combination of the intensity of the coursework, the stiff competition, the slave-driving nature of some advisors, and the callousness of the weather. I was fortunate to dictate my own happiness at MIT, selecting my advisor, lab group, and roster of courses over the two years in which I was a student there. I joined a number of clubs, both academic and social; served as hall councilor in my dormitory; traveled to North Africa on a mission with the Arab Students Organization during a gap month; partook in the Tech Catholic Community; and made a number of friends with whom I remain close today. I had vowed to balance my academic coursework with exciting extracurricular activities, and I still managed to graduate with a perfect 5.0/5.0 GPA.


My family flew in from LA to attend the graduation ceremonies


MIT will forever form a part of who I am and what I’m capable of achieving. Even today, I remain very much attuned to campus news, student achievement, and regional gatherings. In fact, yesterday evening, I attended an MIT alumni event in Beirut which I helped orchestrate as the newly appointed Vice President of the Board.

If there’s any one professional or academic accolade in my lifetime that stands out far above the others, it is my tenure as a graduate student at the world’s highest ranked university. It is my Master of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering. It is my 150-page thesis on advanced high strength steel that was bound into a hardback book and remains housed on the campus library’s shelves. Mere mention of my alma mater during a conversation, and people lift their eyes in surprise, scrambling to take me seriously and size up the magnitude of my drive and ambition.

MIT has opened innumerable doors for me and offered me access to a circle of like-minded individuals who, unbeknownst to the outside world, actually yearn for professional and personal happiness. I’d wager to say that beyond the knowledge you acquire between the institute’s centuries-old walls, you learn the importance of humility, respect for each other’s differences, and the imperative of teamwork.

Thank you, MIT, for some of the best days of my life. I’m grooming my toddler to one day join your ranks!


Fellow graduates and Arab students (from left: Patrick Zeitouni, Samir Mikati, myself, Iman Kandil, and Zeina Saab)

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