Author Archives: tam655harvard

Congratulations!

It was on a Friday, March 4th, 2016, when I received an email on my phone regarding an admissions decision from Harvard Graduate School of Education. I was sitting at home, watching Parks and Recreation after a long day of reading applications (I worked in Admissions for Lafayette College). I made a delicious burger and french fries and was mid-bite when I saw my phone light up. I dropped the burger. Grabbed the phone with my less-greasy hand and used my knuckle to open the email while moving towards the kitchen to wash my hands.

Even more tantalizing was the fact that I needed to pop into ANOTHER webpage to actually see my decision–how CRUEL! But I did. And watched the pixels congratulate me. I cried. You may have as well. Or maybe you screamed? Or maybe you didn’t drop the burger and made that email wait until you consumed all of the calories in front of you. But I cried.

I cried not because I was simply admitted to a wonderful institution with human capital and a reverberating signal–I cried because I thought about my statement of purpose. I ask you to think about the same. You are in the midst of making your decision of where to enroll, which can be a heartwarming challenge to have, but I challenge you to take a moment and read your statement of purpose once more. Remember the hours you spent diving into why you want to make this career move? Think about the personal narrative you let bleed into those 1500 words. That story is who you are. And who you are, down to your core, is what HGSE wants.

You are welcomed into a community who plan to serve the scholars across the world. Of course, HGSE is not the only community that plans accordingly. So explore your options, friend! What I can say from personal experience is that your cognitive and emotional intelligence matters here. Education is the intersection of both, and we look forward to sharing validation and growth to promote our collective social change. Join us at HGSE or join the larger movement–regardless, we are happy to have you in the field.

Taaha Mohamedali is a Master’s of Education candidate in Higher Education. Prior to enrolling at Harvard, Taaha was an admissions officer coordinating efforts to improve access for marginalized groups at Lafayette College.  He hopes to improve transitional support structures for these groups in the years to come. His passions include spoken word, comedy, and rock, paper, scissors.

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J-Term: “Putting a new memory in the minds of children…”

Harvard Graduate School of Education, in collaboration with the other Harvard graduate schools, offers January term (J-term) courses. After I submitted my last final in mid-December, I turned off my laptop for a much needed rest–both for me, and my Mac–and I contemplated whether or not I wanted to extend my break as long as possible. I debated whether I should come back to campus a week earlier to participate in J-term. Thankfully, I did. I enrolled in Professor Joseph Kalt‘s PED 501M: Native Americans in the 21st Century: Nation Building I.

I sat in the same room for four consecutive six and a half-hour days with thirty minute breaks for lunch, and I wasn’t bored for a minute. We unpacked the history and contemporary truths of the myriad sovereign Native nations. Stories after stories: this course unearthed the marginalization, resilience, and preservation of Indian country, which was never shared at any checkpoint of my k-12 or college education. PED 501M made me stop and think: how is it that none of my history courses ever talked about the sovereignty of the indigenous with reverence? This reminded me of the theory I learned in Professor Karen Mapp‘s course, Leadership in Social Change Organization, ‘asset’ versus ‘deficit’ models of thinking. I was socialized to see the deficit of Natives in my educational upbringing, never their cultural capital, which is not only in absolute abundance but in incredible nuance distinguished by tribes. Meanwhile, Professor Kalt shared a quote from an elder Native about the self-determination towards “putting a new memory in the minds of children.”

I ended up jotting down a series of quotes that will be prompts on my future journals:

  • “Even wolves have a constitution” (partially in reference to the projection of Native ‘savagery’) .
  • “I believe that friend, family, and foe should be treated equally.”
  • “Self-esteem is the ability to stop the endless loop of checking if your reasoning is true–not just reasoning, but your reasoning about your reasoning.”
  • “Education is your greatest weapon. With education, you are the white man’s equal, without education you are his victim and so shall remain all of your lives. Study, learn, help one another always. Remember there is only poverty and misery in idleness and dreams – but in work there is self-respect and independence.” -Chief Plenty Coups
  • “A sense of entitlement is one of the most dangerous things of all.”
  • “We don’t ‘eat the seed corn'” – Tribal Chairman John “Rocky” Barrett
  • “Growing up, I had about 70 first cousins–that’s a lot. Now, I have about less than 30 still alive.”

J-term revived my spirits and prepared my mind to dive back into next semester with hype. If in 11 months, you’re debating whether you should register for J-term as you’re binging Game of Thrones for the third time because you’re thoroughly convinced you learn more about EVERY character–I say commit. Plan to return in early January with your heavy coat, and be prepared to install a major intellectual update.

Taaha Mohamedali is a Master’s of Education candidate in Higher Education. Prior to enrolling at Harvard, Taaha was an admissions officer coordinating efforts to improve access for marginalized groups at Lafayette College.  He hopes to improve transitional support structures for these groups in the years to come. His passions include spoken word, comedy, and rock, paper, scissors.

A Purple Chair

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Sitting on the purple chair in Gutman and staring out to the corner of Appian Way and Brattle Street. I just waved to some familiar faces. Months ago, I didn’t know this would be the chair I wrote my paper on first-generation programs, or where I’d engage in a twenty minute dialogue about educational rights of children in the midst of countries in warfare, or where I’d watch Sesame Street clips of Game of Thrones (Game of Chairs) and Star Wars (S’more Wars) parodies as a study break. But here I am, typing, seeing new friendships, and imagining my disruptive impact as I listen to Ed Sheeran.

I spoke to Mike Esposito (Ed.M. ’15) of the Harvard Financial Aid Office in the beginning of the semester and he shared with me something that has deeply resonated; our knowledge is a sphere, and the space around the sphere is the unknown–as we learn more, our sphere grows, but as we understand more, we become more aware of what we don’t know. Relatively speaking, the more we know, the less we know since the sphere’s surface area interfaces with more space.

Everyday is another discourse on a new educational movement, theory of change, and critique. The continued perspective is humbling. As my sphere grows, I need to keep traveling around my newfound world of understanding. Vigilance in intertextuality is the proverbial airplane–and I’ve racked up a lot of air miles. Although traveling is fun, it can be exhausting. I can feel the rich experiences in my DNA, but also the exhaustion stealing my love. With two weeks left to go for finals, I’m enduring the last leg of traveling before I can return to my mental palace and replenish. Yes, the workload is rigorous, but a few more connecting flights through tackling another 15 and 20 page paper will land me home–well, maybe after another break as I fall back into the purple chair.

Taaha Mohamedali is a Master’s of Education candidate in Higher Education. Prior to enrolling at Harvard, Taaha was an admissions officer coordinating efforts to improve access for marginalized groups at Lafayette College.  He hopes to improve transitional support structures for these groups in the years to come. His passions include spoken word, comedy, and rock, paper, scissors.

One year later

I first visited Appian Way around this time last year to attend the Diversity Recruitment Program (DRP). During DRP, I heard powerful voices from faculty, staff, and students articulating their stance on complex challenges in education and their day-to-day agency on all students’ behalf. I was amazed by others and second-guessed my ability. I remember combating my imposter syndrome with a phone call to my mentor and check-in with my closest friends. I ultimately decided to apply and you can guess how that turned out.

One year later, I found myself on the student life panel addressing attendees of this year’s DRP. It was surreal. Although I felt much more comfortable in Askwith Hall this time around, my impression of those around me did not shift. I met a prospective student who works specifically with low-performing students to understand their deepest needs. I connected with another prospective student who worked for several community based organizations–she worked with traditional age college-going students and veterans. I chatted with someone who hopes to champion international education policy, and she asked me how one’s intersectionality exists in spaces like HGSE.

I shared something with those in attendance at the student panel at DRP that I realize is truer every moment I spend here. An alumnus of HGSE and I had a chat about content of knowledge and the unknown. Imagine a sphere. The sphere itself represents the content of knowledge you have acquired. The space around the sphere is the unknown. As you continue to learn, the sphere grows in size. But as it grows, there is more surface area that interacts with the unknown space around it. Thus, the more content you learn, relatively speaking, the more aware you are of just how much is unknown.

If you’re looking into HGSE to confirm your theories and acquire the Harvard laurel, I’d encourage you to pause. This place has a habit of converting your answers into many complex questions. The personal resolve you have to dive into what matters deeply to you is what sustains you here, not molding your learning only to confirm your hypothesis. I hope that’s a nugget that you find helpful, especially because you might just find yourself here next year in the class of 2018, sharing your own journey to HGSE on a student panel.

Taaha Mohamedali is a Master’s of Education candidate in Higher Education. Prior to enrolling at Harvard, Taaha was an admissions officer coordinating efforts to improve access for marginalized groups at Lafayette College.  He hopes to improve transitional support structures for these groups in the years to come. His passions include spoken word, comedy, and rock, paper, scissors.

Midterms.

Midterms: the half-point check-in with exams and papers that showcase the great human capital we’ve developed in the past month and a half. This familiar feeling is about as missed as the half-hearted final bite of an unsatisfactory meal. I forgot what it felt like to lock myself in the library and plug away for hours on end only to reemerge in society half-dazed and feeling like a zombie. Although you may be thinking, ‘Whoa, do I really want to go through that again?’ I’d recommend you finish reading this post.

Diving back into annotated pages where I drew skewed stars and underlined paragraphs with side bars of “GET OUT!” or “this hits home – another checkpoint of institutionalized racism” brought me comfort. I’ve been absorbing a lot of knowledge calories here, but I haven’t felt any ‘smarter,’ because the growth is unassuming. Listening to peers sharing perspectives adds to the ones I already cherish. Learning has been indefinite the past month and a half and it’s a bit weird to try and share how much I’ve consumed.

I remember having midterms in college where I was simply trying to get through the material. I remember acknowledging and hitting home points that the faculty mentioned with distinct emphasis in class, or championing texts that showcase deep intertextuality, but that’s not what it’s all about here. The push back of what you’ve learned the semester is predicated on the platform we share as a collective to improve the lives of the individuals we serve – young and old. We learn so we can improve the systems in which they live. Midterms can be grueling, but it’s not an unsatisfactory meal here. In fact, I find that it’s been pretty delicious.

Taaha Mohamedali is a Master’s of Education candidate in Higher Education. Prior to enrolling at Harvard, Taaha was an admissions officer coordinating efforts to improve access for marginalized groups at Lafayette College.  He hopes to improve transitional support structures for these groups in the years to come. His passions include spoken word, comedy, and rock, paper, scissors.