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Alumni Association

Distinguished Graduate

VALENCIA COLLEGE ALUMNI ASSOCIATION MARY SMEDLEY COLLIER DISTINGUISHED GRADUATE AWARD

2016-2017 DISTINGUISHED GRADUATE: Rula Khalaf

Rula KhalafDistinguished Grad Rula Khalaf, 20, officially became a resident of the United States in August 2013. Brought to America when her family of six moved from the Middle East, she studied at Timber Creek High, followed by an eventful two years at Valencia. This spring she graduates with an Associate in Arts degree and, in the Fall, will transfer to UCF with a 4.0 GPA. In her junior year of high school, Khalaf had not given much thought to college, as it was not common for young women to go to school in her homeland. In her Senior year, her counselors pushed the idea a bit more, prompting her to apply to Valencia and UCF. Accepted to both, she opted for Valencia's smaller class sizes and more intimate campus setting.

"UCF sounded a bit overwhelming," Khalaf says. "They would tell me there are up to 1,000 students in a class. I thought, ‘Why not start at a place that has smaller classes, and get the same quality education at a better price?'" Khalaf quickly immersed herself in course work and extracurricular activities. "The first week, my mind was bent on studying, focusing on school, getting A's," Khalaf said. "Then Welcome Back Week happened at the East Campus mall area; I became familiarized with what Valencia had to offer and wanted to take part in everything, including clubs." The clubs proved important to Khalaf's success, allaying initial fears that she might be ostracized because of her background. Khalaf joined Phi Theta Kappa honor society and Student Government Association, later becoming the chief of staff at East Campus SGA. In the classroom, she credits the New Student Experience class with giving her direction. "It's a mandatory class, and a lot of people think it's busy work, because maybe they already know what they want to do. But where I'm from, nobody ever asked me what I wanted to be." Khalaf took the course seriously delving into the career research, attending all of the recommended Skillshops. She ultimately decided on dentistry, and even took on the role of president for East Campus's Future Medical Professionals club. This fall, she will pursue a major in biomedical sciences at University of Central Florida, with aspirations of enrolling in the University of Florida's College of Dentistry. Although she has accomplished a lot in four years, Khalaf says gaining a feeling of acceptance was the biggest hurdle to overcome. "Coming to America, I was afraid," Khalaf says. "We came here thinking people would hate us. If they saw my mom in the hijab, I thought they might not accept my family because of the way the few instances of extremism in the Muslim world are portrayed in the media." Inspired by the welcoming, familial atmosphere at Valencia, Khalaf now hopes to make the college proud as a graduate. "Life's all about how you perceive it. Playing the victim will only slow things down," Khalaf says. "Don't let people pity you, let them be inspired by you."


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