CLASS 2017 Valedictorian, Rehana Parekh

Rehana-parekh

2017 Valedictorian Rehana Parekh with her daughter, Zainab

The College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences (CLASS) at Cal Poly Pomona is proud to present Rehana Parekh as valedictorian for the graduating class of 2017. Rehana is a stunning example of the unwavering dedication, both at school and at home, that guarantees success.

Newly married, Rehana immigrated from her home in Pakistan to the United States at the age of 20, eager to enroll in college. She began taking courses at Mount San Antonio College, where she quickly distinguished herself as an avid student with a fierce hunger for knowledge.

Shortly after finishing her second semester, Rehana was blessed with the arrival of her beautiful baby daughter, Zainab. “When I first held her, I knew I couldn’t come back to school,” she recalls. “I was a new wife, a new mother; I couldn’t divide my time.” She decided to put her formal education on hold to dedicate all her time and energy to raising a family.

Rehana left school on a bittersweet note, delighted to spend time with her daughter but disappointed to be leaving the classroom so soon. Over the next 7 years, she added three wonderful sons to her growing family. Motherhood became a full-time job, but she looks back at this period of her life with absolutely no regrets. The thrill of watching her children grow and experience life for the first time reaffirmed her decision to postpone her own educational goals – at least for the moment.

Even though Rehana relished the time she spent with her family, she would feel a twinge of longing every year as she enrolled her children in school. With a sigh, she filled out their enrollment forms, wistfully responding to “Mother’s Level of Education” with “some college” rather than the degree she yearned for.

As her children grew older and more independent, Rehana recognized that her opportunity to resume her own education had arrived. Determined to fulfill her academic potential, Rehana re-enrolled in Mount San Antonio College, where she quickly completed her undergraduate work before transferring to Cal Poly Pomona as a psychology major. In Pakistan, she had always been an engaged student, vocal and enthusiastically interactive, but she worried that her long absence from the classroom may have dampened her enthusiasm and confidence.

As Rehana began her first class, she soon realized that staying silent would be a disservice to both herself and her fellow students. Coming from another culture and being older than many of her classmates, she had so much experience that could enhance classroom discussions and bring a new perspective to her peers. Overcoming her apprehension and responding to the inclusive environment of the classroom, she determined to make her voice heard.

One interaction stands out above the others for Rehana. The discussion had turned to arranged marriages, which the majority of her classmates forcefully condemned as archaic and profoundly unfair. Rehana took the opportunity to speak from personal experience and explain it another way: “I had an arranged marriage, and it’s worked out perfectly. It is not a forced thing. I had a choice in it.”

Her fellow students were skeptical at first, but Rehana patiently shared her first-hand understanding of the tradition and helped to reframe the concept. By drawing on her own lived experience, she enabled her peers to broaden their education, and she was proud to provide positive insight into a topic that was widely misunderstood.

Because of the choice to delay her education, Rehana had the unique opportunity to attend school with her children. Rehana’s son is enrolled in the computer science program, and her daughter was working on completing her master’s degree in English while also working as a teaching associate at CPP.

Rehana would often carpool with her children, attending classes on the same campus and doing homework side by side at night. “It was just such a fun and exciting journey, especially doing it with my kids,” she says. “It was an experience in itself.”

All of her dedication and sacrifice to her family and academics paid off when she discovered that she would be the 2017 valedictorian of CLASS. What’s more, her daughter would also graduate top of her class with a master’s in English and an option in TESOL from Cal Poly Pomona. Mother and daughter would be graduating with top honors at the very same ceremony. “When I saw her in the cap and gown, I started crying,” Rehana remembers tenderly. “I felt so proud. She doesn’t understand that. When she becomes a mom, she will feel it. I feel like her accomplishment is my accomplishment.” As if this weren’t enough success to celebrate, Rehana’s son was chosen as one of his high school’s valedictorians. Rehana’s children had been inspired by their mother’s love for learning and her commitment to following through on her dreams.

Rehana credits her academic success to the support of her husband and family, the incredible knowledge and guidance of her professors at CPP, including Dr. Barker and Dr. Fong, as well as the many friends she made in each class. “People have always been very friendly here... I never felt older. I felt like a student. I never felt out of place.”

Rehana’s accomplishments embody the triumph of perseverance and bravery in the face of life’s challenges. By summoning the courage to return to school after a long hiatus, uncertain of her place in the classroom but certain of her desire to succeed, Rehana reached far beyond her potential and inspired countless others to do the same.