Resilience fuels Georgia Gwinnett College student’s campus experience
Two tests of resilience bookended Marium Zafar’s college career: growing up a shy Muslim in America and a worldwide pandemic.
Before coming to Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) in 2017, Zafar grew up enduring the isolation and misunderstanding that came with being one of the few Muslims in a northern metro Atlanta city that lacked diversity. Zafar was born in Pakistan and immigrated to the U.S. at a young age. She started wearing a hijab when she was in middle school that made her stand out even more starkly among her peers. To avoid negative attention, she kept to herself as much as possible, never joining any clubs and always sticking to the corner of the classroom.
Zafar expected to carry on with the same tactics as a college student. She’d intentionally chosen a smaller college, seeking a place where she perceived the focus was on academics more so than extracurriculars, but the vibrant campus life at GGC had an unexpected pull and she could obtain a four-year degree.
“I was swept up into the full swing of club fair day and became enchanted by registered student organizations (RSOs),” she said. “The hustle and bustle of club officers recruiting members, the throngs of people playing games and interacting, and of course, all the free merchandise. The multicolored highlighter pens and fuzzy, striped socks called out to the cheap college student within me, and for the first time, I chose to stay after class just to soak up the glory of campus life for all that it was.”
Zafar dove in and seized the opportunity to step into a multitude of roles. She became a reporter for the GGC newspaper, The Globe, volunteered at Greenlight events, went horseback riding with the GGC Equestrian Club, organized and hosted tech events for Atlanta-based nonprofit Women in Technology, and founded the Student Innovators Organization for Sustainability (SIOS) with her friend and fellow student Greatzel Unabia.
“Being an active participant in GGC’s campus life gave me opportunities for growth,” she said. “I connected with people from many disciplines and gained valuable mentorship and guidance from GGC’s professors and staff who work so hard behind the scenes to support us.”
Zafar would like new GGC students who feel scared or insecure like she did to know how rewarding stepping outside one’s comfort zone can be.
“Be open to engaging with new experiences,” she advised. “Be the newbie employee who takes the initiative to join your workplace’s social organizations; be the friendly neighbor and good Samaritan who is involved in their community; be the individual to attend an educational event, just because you are open to learning something new. Be someone who steps out onto the land of opportunity, regardless of whether you have an initial purpose or an end goal, because you are the one steering the wheel at the helm of your experience.”
Her last year at GGC was turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic, but she took it in stride.
“This year in quarantine reminded me of my time before college. In a sense, the challenge I faced at the beginning of my college life is the same struggle I had to overcome at the end of the road,” she said. “This year has been something we have never undergone before, and amid it all, our journeys progressed in ways we may not have envisioned.”
One of those ways, for her, was meeting her husband, Talha, “who has become my pillar of strength.”
Zafar is earning a degree in information technology with a concentration on enterprise systems. She plans to take some time off for self-growth and reflection before moving on to her next adventure.
Zafar joins more than 750 students who will graduate at GGC’s hybrid spring commencement, scheduled for May 12 and 13. The celebration kicks off online at 7 p.m. on May 12 with keynote addresses by GGC’s president, commencement student speaker and Alumni Board chair. The celebration continues on May 13 with in-person ceremonies at 8:30 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
In-person ceremonies will be live streamed at www.ggc.edu/commencement.