Asalam Ailikum Emory,

As I reflect and experience all my lasts with you, I remember all of the firsts: My first Emory Muslim Student Association Art Gala, where I emceed nervously and stumbled on all my words; my first time falling asleep in class (seriously, why is astronomy held at 8 a.m. in a darkroom? What were y’all expecting?); my first protest and sit-in and die-in, where we fought to remind this campus and the world that black lives and black students always matter; my first time wearing hijab — and my first time being asked by a professor to take off my hijab; my first anxiety attack; and my first time going by my God-given name with pride (thank you, Nancy). My firsts were all here.

Yesterday, as I lay on McDonough Field eating free Zaxby’s tenders, I remembered running from Raoul Hall my first year during Dooley’s Week, and I couldn’t help but reminisce on the numerous times I have walked this field: from my very first Student Activities Fair, where I excitedly shuffled through the crowds looking for the Muslim Student Association table, to then being the one running the table and welcoming so many young, eager faces to an organization that I made my home away from home.

Here’s the thing about Emory — it isn’t easy here in any way, shape or form.

Emory, you saw me at my very worst. You saw me when I felt like I couldn’t move forward, and sometimes, Emory, you were the one to push me into those episodes. Emory, you hurt me and you ignored community members like me because, as we all know, you were not made for Afro-Arab, Sudanese, Black, Muslim, low-income Hijabis like me.

You just weren’t, and that’s okay. I was naive coming in to think that who I was did not matter and that college would be the great equalizer. It wasn’t, and it isn’t, and that’s okay. It is okay. It will be okay. You know why? Because every time Emory hurt me, it also built me. For every microaggression or challenge, there was a peer or a friend or a colleague or a mentor; there was a professor that would redo his syllabus to incorporate your motherland (thank you, Dr. Shomade) or a person that at the very least could listen, empathize and help orchestrate a way to push back and make this place home — make it a space I could value.

There was a Free Thought open mic night, where I could shed my soul of the exhaustion it felt after having to constantly validate my existence here but could also celebrate my existence here. There were offices and administration members that I could educate and check in with to ensure that progress was happening. There were friends to remind me that my existence is both loved and necessary. And sometimes, there was just that free Xfinity subscription that honestly did more for my mental health at times than the months-long waiting list at CAPS. Emory, you broke me and built me and for that, I will never forgive you, and I will also never stop loving you and thanking you — you housed my firsts, and I made you home.

So to the class of 2023, just remember that you too can make this place home.

Wa Ailikum Wa Salam,

Nora Elmubarak

Nora is from Huntsville, Ala., and served as a member of The Emory Wheel’s Editorial Board, Muslim Student Association president and Young Democrats of Emory campaign and community coordinator.