Inspired by his parents' own sacrifices, Zaki Farah '23 knew exactly how he could make a difference in the world, if only he was given the chance. But his future was in the hands of a judge...
Farah's parents grew up as neighbors in Syria. When his father was 19, he left for England and studied film. He returned with an education ten years later, and reconnected with the girl who lived next door. They decided to get married, and then made an even bigger decision. They wanted to start a family, just not in Syria. The country was still two decades from an ongoing civil war, but before the bloody uprising, most liberties and economic opportunities were non-existent. They had a relative in South Glens Falls, New York, and he invited them to America. Zaki's parents would have nothing but one room in a foreign country to start their life together, and there was no guarantee they would ever see their family or friends again. In 1990 they left Syria, and they haven't returned since.
Farah's dad opened a photography shop in Queensbury, New York. Farah and his sister were raised in a Syrian household and spoke Arabic, but had advantages, and freedom, that Syrian children couldn't imagine. Farah says that his parents sacrificed everything for his future, but one dangerous encounter could have ended it all.
There was a fight. Farah didn't start it, but he did defend himself and his friend. It took awhile for the facts to surface, and Farah was put on trial. While still in high school, Farah got an unwanted but life-changing view of the justice system from the inside. He saw that not all defendants are treated equally, and not all of the accused are given a fair trial or a consistent shot at justice. Farah made the decision to be a lawyer and help advocate for a much-needed change. His plan was to get a degree, then go to law school, fight for immigrants, or the children of immigrants. At the end of a two-year bench trial, justice was served, and Farah made a promise to the judge:
"The next time you hear my name, I'll be a lawyer."
He's well on his way. Farah will carry a 3.8 GPA into his junior year. He's grateful for what his parents sacrificed before he was born, giving him the opportunity to pursue his academic passions. In September, his mom and dad will fly to Lebanon, and then be driven across the border to Syria. It'll be their first time home in more than 30 years. The trip is too dangerous for Farah and his sister, but from afar, Farah strongly identifies with the country he's never seen.
"The prospect of pursuing immigration law has taken me by storm! I'd like to help people become U.S. citizens the right way. I'm very passionate about that. It’s what my parents did, and I saw how hard that was. Everybody comes to America to live a life that is worthy, not just survive. I want to help people obtain the same freedoms I had growing up.”
Zaki Farah '23
Farah speaks to his cousins, aunts, and uncles in Syria (in Arabic) all the time. He loves the family he's never met, though a few have been able to visit him in New York. Farah says it's all laughs on the phone, but he can feel their pain. They are safe from the violence of the civil war, but the country has been torn apart.
Farah knows exactly what his life would be like had his parents not left for New York. He'd be working the olive trees on his family's land. His grandfather, right, bequeathed the property to his father - which overlooks the Mediterranean Sea.
"If Americans had the perspective of the way others live for one day – their whole attitude and way of life would change. Liberals and conservatives would be hanging out at the same bar putting their differences aside. If every day our lives were put in a life or death situation, then we would understand what it truly means to live."