There is no doubt about it: Cornell is gorges-ly huge! I was always getting lost while trying to find my classes, which were scattered from the Arts Quad to Collegetown. Luckily, there were always plenty of upperclass students more than willing to help a poor freshman out. I remember one such Good Samaritan telling me to pass it on, after pointing me in the right direction. It was a sage advice moment, and since then I have tried to continue this chain of kindness.
Now, as a volunteer at the Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassador Network (CAAAN), I act as a resource and friend to a new generation of students in my home country Pakistan. It is fulfilling work, and after seven years of global nomadism, a grounding one.
As I look back at my adventures after Ithaca, I realize that like Ulysses, the odyssey I had planned wasn’t the one I got. I discarded my childhood dream of professional archaeology and shirked the traditional PhD for an avant-garde M.A. in sustainable cultural heritage in Italy. I returned home on the eve of 2019 to pioneer the position of chairman’s special assistant at the Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan.
What struck me most about coming back was the gapping disconnect between the older and younger generations. As the youngest member of the HEC senior management committee by a decade, it seemed that the seasoned elders were largely unaware of the issues faced by young people whose education they were responsible for. My motive for joining CAAAN was now no longer about just giving back to Cornell.
CAAAN members serve as human resources to college applicants and allow students to present themselves as more than just online applications. This is done through informational contact meetings. For international students, CAAAN is perhaps the only way for non-virtual interactions with Cornell, since campus tours are an unthinkable luxury. I was assigned five early applicant students and all responded eagerly to physical meetups; two especially travelled from out of town instead of using the virtual call option.
I had expected the students to be brilliantly talented. The trend I had not expected was how little encouragement and guidance these students received from their school administrators and teachers in college applications, relying instead on each other for support. The importance of community was echoed unanimously; it was among the main reasons for selecting Cornell as the early decision college.
I felt as if these students were searching for mentors who could relate to their struggles and lend an empathetic ear to their dreams. The words of one student particularly struck me: “I am hungry for opportunities.” It is a grave reminder of how much more needs to be done for our youth. I do not know the next stage of my journey, but I do know that I want to help the next generation in launching their own odysseys. I want to continue to pass it on.
Malik emcees at the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan’s 2019 International Conference on Quality Assurance, with the Pakistan Federal Minister of Education Shafqat Mahmood, Pakistan President Arif Alvi, HEC Chairman Tariq Banuri and U.S. Ambassador Paul W. Jones (left to right).