Mom, daughter graduate together

Zaynab Abdullah (left) celebrated her graduation with her mother Insaf Abdullah at Columbia University’s School of General Studies graduation on May 19. - Photo courtesy of David Wentworth/Columbia University

Mother and daughter duo, Insaf and Zaynab Abdullah jointly celebrated their future as they as they walked down the aisle at their Columbia University School of General Studies graduation on May 19.

Though they knew they’d both complete their highly coveted degrees, the Pelham Bay family said the timing was a pleasant surprise.

“We didn’t plan to graduate together,” Zaynab said, explaining that her mother was enrolled part-time at the School of General Studies when she decided to begin studying full-time.

Insaf said she first realized the coincidental timing in the fall of 2007, when she registered for more than her normal workload. Inspired to graduate with her daughter in the spring, she continued with an additional 11 credits and met Zaynab promptly at the graduation finish line.

“We were very excited to share the day,” Zaynab said. “It’s one of the most important days in someone’s life and to get to spend it with your mom is really special.”

Columbia University’s School of General Education was created specifically for students with nontraditional backgrounds who sought a rigorous, traditional full or part-time undergraduate degree.

While her daughter majored in Middle East studies, hoping to create more awareness about its people and culture locally, Insaf studied political science.

“I was always interested in why these wars; why these conflicts happen between people, so I decided to go into political science and find out,” Insaf explained.

Now exhausted from maintaining both her full-time job at the family’s business, Holy Land Insurance and Travel, at 650 Morris Park Avenue, and finishing up her bachelor’s degree, Insaf said she’s taking a break from education – but not for long.

Next fall, she plans on enrolling in Columbia University’s political science master’s program.

Recently married, Zaynab said she would soon join her husband, who resides in the Middle East. While she’s visited, Zaynab’s never lived outside of the United States and looks forward to this educational venture abroad.

Her mother, having immigrated to the United States from Palestine in 1980, said it is her dream to use her education to help bring peace to the war torn country.

Aspiring to make waves of change at the United Nations, she explained, “I don’t think there are enough women in the field so I hope I can help.”

While Insaf said moving to the United States was a difficult transition, only speaking Arabic and ignorant of western culture, her passion and deep desire to further her education prevailed.

“I’m just so happy,” she said. As she continues to work toward her dreams, Insaf added, “I’m very optimistic and I have big hope things will get better in Palestine. I hope I’ll be part of it.” 

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