2017 Winner

Salem Ali

Petaluma, CA

When I was nine years old, I moved to the other side of the world. It was decided that my siblings and I could not continue daily life without understanding the land from which our parents originated, and so we moved to Palestine. A country in every way except name and recognition, smaller than the size of the San Francisco Bay Area, became my home for the following two years of my life. While departing from the stability I had engineered in the first nine years of my life was difficult, this sizable shift from the modernized U.S. to the culturally-rich Palestine awoken me to the world we live in.

My odyssey overseas demonstrated a great cultural contrast from the United States. Here. any midnight hunger was effortlessly solved by opening the fridge and picking among the grandeur of options. A body, worked too long outside in the heat, could be rewarded by a long shower. In Palestine, things are not such. Water is a luxury granted by the clouds, not pipes, whose blessing is stored in wells on every roof. Food and shelter only available if you had worked long enough to afford it. And as the army, from troops to tanks, marched through the neighborhoods, safety has certainly fallen to the wayside in the wake of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Just as those two years taught me of a Palestinian's reality, I was equally informed on my culture. And while there are many aspects to Palestinian culture, none were as critical as the role of family. I realized that I should always look to help my family as they have always striven to help me, that my decisions in life cannot revolve around what is best for me, but for those that matter most to me, and that home is not a location, but where I can laugh and enjoy the present without a care in the world. The memories in my grandfather’s house solidify this idea; I can easily recall his face. His slight grin finding its way across his face as he enjoys the company of his children and grandchildren, his legacy, as he overlooks the valley, olive trees littering the horizon. On his patio our entire family sat every night, reveling in stories concerning anything from political problems to childhood memories. So while the U.S. may provide a rich and lavish life, its emphasis on the ""self"" makes it pale in comparison. This emphasis has no place in my Palestinian culture.

When I was nine years old, I did not simply “move,” but was enlightened to previously unknown circumstances. The people of Palestine worked to buy basic necessities, but as a result, education was forced to the wayside. Education, the enabler of brilliant minds across the world, could not be prioritized in the country that needs such great minds to propel it forward. Consequently, it is education that led my father to this country twenty-seven years ago, and it is education that makes me thankful for his decisions. I have been given an opportunity most Palestinians could not afford, and because of that I have learned to love stoichiometry just as much as Shakespeare, for I have to come to love my own education. Most human beings are born with this thing called curiosity, an insatiable urge to ask and answer questions, yet the majority of the Palestinian population simply cannot act upon this urge. From working to support one’s family to the inability to afford schooling, many cannot ask and find answers. Thankfully, I am not in that situation. My education allows me to seek, and more importantly, find answers in my life, but I still am appreciative of what I have compared to others.

My love of education and the opportunist U.S. merged with my Palestinian culture forms my aspirations in life: to give back to the world that has given me so much to love. Over the last three years, I’ve taken advantage of the opportunities presented to me because helping others, not just myself, is what my culture has taught me to prioritize. Last summer, a partner and I developed a 3D printable spectrometer, making an expensive scientific tool effectively free for schools across the country. For five years I’ve played in concert and parades with my school’s band. I volunteered at the Children's Museum helping children learn about the sciences I find so much fun, serving as both a “Playologist” and mechanic’s assistance. When I was nine years old, I realized how fortuitous I was to be in such a dual position, and therefore I will continue to use my love of education and my selfless culture not only to help my family but to engineer a device that benefits the world as a whole.

While departing from the stability I had engineered in the first nine years of my life was difficult, this sizable shift from the modernized U.S. to the culturally-rich Palestine awoken me to the world we live in…My love of education and the opportunist U.S. merged with my Palestinian culture forms my aspirations in life: to give back to the world that has given me so much to love.

When my family uprooted our life and moved across the world nine years ago, I fell into despair as I left my school, my friends, and the stability I had engineered and blindly walked into my uncertain, unclear future. Yet this move has fundamentally changed my priorities in life, my perspective of cultural differences, and the realization that my education may be “free” but is infinitely valuable. As I continue into college, these lessons will not falter in their impact on my life either but will continue to guide me as well. Nine years ago, I moved to a seemingly insignificant country, yet this move’s impact on my life has forever changed my past, who I strive to be in the present, and my goals and aspirations for the future.

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