Shabeena Sharak: Finding Myself Through Persistence

Shabeena Sharak as always known who she is and what her priorities are, but it wasn’t until recently that she fully understood her strength and pride. In her story, she shares the academic hurdles she has endured and how they have made her stronger. Throughout this process she has gotten a better picture of who she is and what she is capable of. This story is part of MALA’s scholarship essay contest. To see more scholarship essays, click here.

The hardest question I have ever asked myself is, “Who are you?” For a long time, I did not understand who I was or who I wanted to be. My identity as a young, Caribbean Muslim girl seemed obvious; but the parts of my identity that could not be seen were the hardest to understand. Although I continue to search for pieces of my identity, throughout the last three years I have embarked on a journey to discover who I am and have made some progress.

My name is Shabeena Sharak. I am a first generation college student at Hofstra University majoring in psychology and criminology and minoring in legal studies in business. The first major experience that led me to confront what I had originally thought made up my identity was attending high school. Throughout my childhood, I was always known as the quiet, smart girl with long curly hair. My parents had always encouraged me to dream big. Unlike many children who did not think about careers or even college while they were young, I always thought about my future and planned accordingly.

Neither of my parents attended college because they had to work at a young age in order to provide for their families in Guyana. As a result, they never got the opportunity to choose the path that they wanted for themselves. Because of this, I threw myself into a world where school was my whole life. I became obsessed with excelling in school and pushed myself as much as I could. In middle school, I graduated as valedictorian of my class. On top of that, I was accepted to Townsend Harris High School, which is one of New York City’s best public high schools. I was proud of myself for my accomplishments; however, my pride was shattered when I started high school.

During my first three years at Townsend Harris High School, I lost a piece of my identity. I lost all of the faith and confidence I had in myself, and I felt hopeless. School drove me insane — I put an immense amount of effort into my academic work but could not do as well as I wanted to. I went from excelling in middle school to suffering in high school. I felt as though whatever my peers did, I always had to work harder than them if I wanted to compete.

By my senior year of high school, I had regained the confidence I had in myself because I realized that no matter how insecure I was with my academic abilities, I never stopped trying. To me, persistence and dedication are the two attributes that make up my identity the most. Although I endured the hardest three years of my life at Townsend Harris, that experience led me to realize that I was capable of anything that I put my mind to.

When I started college, I was more than ready. The suffering I endured at Townsend prepared me for the new challenges that I faced in college. I was determined to excel in college, and I was not going to let myself down like I did in high school. Throughout my three years at Hofstra, I have felt myself grow and develop as a person. When I introduce myself to people, I say my name with confidence because I want my peers and professors to know who I am and what I am capable of.

While I have been able to manage the academic work at Hofstra, one of the hardest challenges I have faced so far pertains to God. When I was in high school, I turned to God when I was in a dark place; however, in college, I felt as though I was slipping further and further away from that aspect of my life. I knew for a fact that I had to change this somehow because God has always been a part of my identity. I credit him for everything I have had and for creating me as the person I am. I still have a long way to go, but I know that He will help me find my way back to Him.

Although I am determined, motivated, intelligent and faithful, my identity cannot be described this simply. Now that I am 20 years old, I often look back at my experiences and reflect on how much I have changed. I am not perfect, but I am proud of the person I am today, and I will continue to learn more about myself as I endure more experiences.