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EVERY STUDENT who has walked through the halls of Townsend Harris High School has learned a lesson in time management and juggling responsibilities. While these skills are vital, it is rare that a student sees the fruits of her labor so quickly after graduating. For alumni Lubna Rahmani, a graduate from the class of 2014, that is exactly what happened.
Currently a third year student at Macaulay Honors College at Baruch, Lubna was awarded the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship to study in Japan this past May. This honor is one that many students strive to attain, but for Lubna, it was much more than an honor—it was the result of all her hard work and sacrifice.
Although Lubna attended Francis Lewis High School for her freshman year due to her grades, she stated, “From deep down in my heart, I always had it set in the back of my head that I wanted my high school diploma to be from Townsend.” Like many freshmen, her experience when she first arrived was not so simple. “I’m thinking Townsend is light work like Franny Lew. Turns out my 102.64 gpa from freshman year flushed down the toilet and hit an 88.04 and I was devastated,” she explained. Not only did Lubna have to manage her transition from an “easy” high school to one that challenged her academically, but her home situation added to her responsibilities.
In 2008’s recession, both of Lubna’s parents lost their jobs and wouldn’t regain them until 2014. Additionally, Lubna’s older sister, who was diagnosed with bipolar depression, gave birth to Lubna’s niece at the same time that she was entering high school in 2010. All of these factors that were relatively manageable in Francis Lewis became exceedingly difficult alongside THHS work. The pressure became so much that Lubna even considered leaving.
“I had a talk with Ms. Widman and Nurse Carter, and they definitely knew I’d be making a poor choice if I decided to leave that day. It was the demanding learning pace and time-consuming homework mixed with my familial hardships at home [like] raising a newborn baby…left behind by my sister that drove me into a stressful corner. With time, I found ways to manage my stress,” Lubna explained.
One method that helped Lubna relieve her stress was writing in her nikki, or Japanese journal about her feelings and struggles in Dr. Mariko Sato’s class. Lubna found the culture so comforting that she would even sing to her newborn niece, who she cared for as her own daughter, in Japanese.
For Lubna, her seemingly inescapable situation at home gave her all of the motivation she needed to succeed. “My unique differences, such as not being able to study ever in peace and quiet… reading and typing up essays in the bathroom sometimes for the lack of space and ability to focus [and] at times because of all the fighting, arguing, crying, and ruckus of sorts at home, have always been my reasons to ensure that I at least paved a way out of this mess,” she said.
While her brother, who attended Bronx Science, was “sleeping in class, serving detention, and in no way engaging with the school setting whatsoever,” due to his familial issues, she continued, “my motivation to give a better life to the little baby has been the only reason my junior and senior years at THHS were so much better. It wasn’t about grades anymore, it was about the time and amount of smiles I gave to my little girl.”
When it came time for Lubna to apply to colleges, her options were limited. She decided she “was not leaving [her] kid solely for the dorming experience” and even promised her dad she wouldn’t make him pay a cent for her education. Macaulay was the option that fit everything she was looking for.
After getting into the school and deciding to major in international business, Lubna faced a new problem. “I always thought that studying abroad wouldn’t be possible until law school for me because my baby, well at least to me, is still a little baby, and I am really not comfortable leaving her,” she admitted. However, at Baruch, “every International Business major will need some form of international experience in order to graduate with a degree in international business.” After talking to the dean and explaining her unique situation, she was given the green light to only spend a few weeks abroad to fulfill her requirements through the aforementioned Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. Not only did Lubna get to complete her required study abroad credits, but she finally got to experience the country that had so long been an object of her fascination thanks to her uncle, who had once studied there, and Townsend’s own Dr. Sato, who helped further her learning of Japan.
Lubna’s story can be mistaken for one of misfortune, but she wants to clarify her true mindset: “If you don’t give up on your dreams, there’s no way they’re giving up on you, so keep at it, and an opportunity will roll in at one point or another. Just be there to grasp it.”
Lubna is extremely grateful for the experiences Townsend afforded her but is “aware of the fact that others have better ways, resources, and outlets… [she doesn’t] underestimate [her] competition and overestimate herself.”
To conclude, she had a resounding message to share with current students: “Look to your right. Look to your left. What kind of a world do you see? I know it’s a mess. It will stay a mess if you choose to do nothing about it…Don’t be ignorant. Know your world. Understand your place and recognize your strength and what exactly you are capable of doing. Yes, you are a citizen of America. But are you really a citizen of the world? Learn to take action and speak when it is necessary. Think before you say, and say it with passion. Make a difference for our world and let our future generation understand that their duty is the same; live for one another and have good intentions for all.”