Please note, the name and various details have been altered to protect “Merhab”

Enrolling at the early age of fifteen, Merhab’s journey to the American University of Afghanistan was anything but typical. His unique academic path is due to his natural determination, craving for knowledge, and his father owning and operating a school in their hometown of Herat. Merhab enrolled in school at the age of four- an age he described as unusually early in Afghanistan. With the encouragement of his parents, Merhab skipped the third, seventh, and eleventh grades, and at the age of fifteen, he applied to AUAF in complete secrecy. To his surprise, but not to those who knew him, Merhab was accepted with a 90% scholarship and enrolled the following Fall.

Once at AUAF, Merhab discovered a passion and affinity for politics. Going against the recommendation of his parents and other mentors to focus on business, he followed his gut and pursued political science and public administration. Merhab explained how AUAF is the only university in Afghanistan where one can design a personalized curriculum and choose among a wide variety of academic pursuits, not just from majors such as computer science or business. That is the uniqueness of a liberal arts education, he said; the ability to take a diverse selection of courses and choose a path that suits one best.

In addition to the uncommon course load and majors available at AUAF, Merhab feels that AUAF helps shape how women learn and contribute to Afghan society. For many male students, AUAF is the first place they hear women share their thoughts and opinions in a classroom setting. AUAF classrooms — whether in-person or on-line – act as shared spaces where women are free and encouraged to speak their minds. Merhab explained how AUAF has helped empower an entire generation of women and shaped the way thousands of Afghans think about the role of women in society. That kind of drastic shift will have permanent and generational effects.

Following the heart-wrenching fall of Afghanistan, Merhab, like many other young Afghans, had to reimagine a future. Merhab made the decision that continuing his education free from persecution was most important. Leaving behind everything he knew and loved, he made the harrowing journey to the airport. Merhab pushed his way through the chaos of bullets, tear gas, and desperate Afghans trampling him on their path to the gates of the airport, eventually making it to a checkpoint. After an encounter with a U.S. soldier, whom Merhab helped by translating for several hours, he was allowed through airport security during what he describes as a moment of great fortune and luck. After spending the night at the airport, he found himself on a plane out of Kabul to an unnamed destination. Having left his country, family, and loved ones, and surrounded by fellow Afghans — all with similar yet incredibly unique stories — Merhab was certain of one thing: that to continue his passion for education and to preserve his father’s commitment to educating Afghans, his choice of leaving Afghanistan, although a difficult one, was key to his future.

After spending some time at a base in Kuwait, Merhab eventually made his way to Fort Pickett in Virginia, U.S. On his 29th day there, he decided to make a voluntary departure from the base. Although a difficult decision, he felt leaving was necessary if he planned to apply to universities in the United States. Thanks to a gracious couple who have taken Merhab in, he is currently residing in Pennsylvania. There, he works on undergraduate applications for Georgetown, Williams College, and many other prestigious universities in the United States.

All who have the privilege of meeting Merhab will be struck by a few things: his captivating intelligence, passion for education, appreciation for AUAF, and most importantly, his steadfast goal of serving and protecting Afghans. Merhab left his home and family because it was necessary for his plans to fight for the freedom of Afghans left behind. Although rightfully fearful for Afghanistan and its future, Merhab remains hopeful. There is hope because Merhab and fellow students can become a uniting force to continue their fight for the freedom and continued education of Afghans.

Because of students like Merhab, education will prevail.