Elham Malik '22 and her first grade friends from many years ago will all be graduating this year, just not together. Her former classmates will be earning their high school diplomas; Elham may just be the youngest Siena graduate in College history.
Freshman year, Elham was much younger than her new college friends. It wasn't necessarily a secret, but she was nervous to share her age. So, for a long time, she didn't. When Elham finally fessed up to being 14 years old, no one believed her.
"My friends all thought I was joking. I didn't have an ID to prove it, because you don't have an ID when you're 14. I was actually pretty upset that no one believed me. I went through my dad's stuff and found my insurance card with birthdate. I took a picture of it and showed them."
The date on the card showed June 30, 2004. Later this month, Elham will graduate several weeks shy of her 18th birthday. According to the College registrar, Elham is officially the youngest Siena graduate since 1999. The records don't go back any further, so it's very possible, in fact probable, that Elham will become the youngest Siena alumnus in school history.
"I'm so grateful I made it this far. I don't think I could have done it at any institution other than Siena. I've had mentors, including friars, who have given me the space to grow. That's very special to me."
Elham took a pre-test before entering the second grade, and based on her performance, she was given the option to skip ahead to the third grade, which she did. A few years later, Elham skipped the 7th grade as well. Her parents intended for her to go to Shaker High School, but since she would be two years younger than the other freshmen, the school had reservations. They asked the family to hold her back, but that seemed to defeat her accomplishments. Instead, she attended Bright Hope Center in Schenectady, and graduated in three years. She completed her Siena degree in three years as well.
Her accomplishments at Siena are numerous, and while she's excited to graduate, she's not ready to leave altogether. Next year, Elham will serve one year as a Siena College AmeriCorps VISTA Fellow, continuing her interfaith work in the local community. After a gap year of service, it's off to dental school, where she will no doubt be the youngest graduate in the history of whichever program she chooses.
The Bright Hope Center prioritizes small classrooms and promotes a family atmosphere. That's partly why Siena was such a natural fit, even at 14 years old. Elham has served as president of the Muslim Student Association, among other notable roles and distinctions, including recently co-emceeing the College's annual Scholarship and Endowed Programs Appreciation Dinner.
"I've always believed I could perform at the same level as other college students, but there are periods of time where I feel like I'm running to catch up. Sometimes I feel like I'm at a sprint, while others are walking. That's why I'm so proud of this accomplishment [younget Siena graduate]. I'm glad that I get to be a part of the alumni network so young, and that gives me so much more time to do all that I want to do.
A few years ago, I remember being so scared that I wouldn’t find people in college because of my age, and then I did and they are all in this picture!"