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Former Student Describes Success Journey With SRA 10 Years Later

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Walid Zafar speaks at the Students Rising Above luncheon. (CBS)

Walid Zafar speaks at the Students Rising Above gala. (CBS)

When we first met Walid Zafar ten years ago, he was a senior at Encinal High School in Alameda. He was a conscientious honor student on his way to the University of Puget Sound in Washington state.

Walid now works for a political non-profit in Washington, D.C. and was the featured speaker at the Students Rising Above gala this year.

“Ten years ago, I was a baby-faced teenager with a full-head of luscious black hair. Now, sad to say, my luscious hair is gone,” Walid laughs, during his speech at the gala.

He may have less hair, but he is a whole lot more accomplished. Walid is currently on the register for assignment with the U.S. State Department. “A year from now,” Walid tells a crowd of more than 600, “I hope I will be representing my country in the Foreign Service.”

Walid is an American citizen now, but he was born in Afghanistan. After his mom was killed in a tragic fire, his grandmother took him in. As the Soviets were leaving and a brutal civil war was breaking out, they escaped, first to Pakistan, and then to the United States.

When he was a teenager, he told us how much his grandmother meant to him. “What she has done for me I would never be able to repay for,” Walid said in his Students Rising Above interview in 2004. “She got me out of the situation that I was in. She has carried me in her arms when my mom died.  So there is nothing, and if I worked for the rest of my life, there is no way I can repay her. She’s basically saved my life.”

Walid was a stand-out student in high school. But what helped him get through college was Students Rising Above. At the gala, Walid recalls the family he has found through the organization. “Then there are my advisors, Barb [Hendricks] and Lauren [Brener]. They have been like mothers to me.”

This guidance is so important to students who rise above, many of whom do not have both—or any—parents in the home.

When Walid was chosen, there were only ten other Students Rising Above in his class. This year, there are 100. Almost all of them the first in their families to go to college, and all of them are low-income.

Wendy Tokuda, KPIX 5 reporter and co-founder of SRA, also spoke at the gala to this year’s SRA class. “You are here because of your character.”

These kids will have the support they need from SRA to not just go to college, but also to graduate. And as Walid points out, to graduate with a purpose: “It stresses the importance of service and giving back, values that we then use to make our college educations matter,” he said.

One more note, Walid and his wife, Sara, are expecting their first baby. Students rising above grow up to be parents, too.

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