Iman Siddiqi, political science and Middle East studies major, hit the ground running when she arrived at UCI. She was already a contributing writer to the Orange County Register and a published children’s book author (her book, Haya: The Loyal Student, is available on Amazon), and a stellar student before graduating from Irvine’s Northwood High School, and she continued that momentum as an Anteater.
Over the last four years, Siddiqi has shown off her writing chops as a news editor for UCI’s New University newspaper, participated in the political science honors program, advocated for refugee rights through the national Books Not Bombs initiative, and served as president of UCI’s Peaceful Passions (formerly Hearts of Mercy). She was last year’s Aldrich Scholar, has maintained an impressive GPA in addition to all of her extracurricular involvements, and was named the Alumni Association’s 2018 Lauds & Laurels Outstanding Undergraduate. She's also a 2018 Chancellor's Scholar of Distinction. But perhaps her biggest achievement to date came late last year when, after being granted the 2017/18 Dalai Lama Scholarship, she organized a fundraising banquet which raised more than $90,000 in a single night for her Refugee Student Scholarship Program.
Now as she prepares to address her peers as the student speaker at one of the School of Social Sciences commencement ceremonies on June 15, she’s not looking to slow down. Instead, she’s got even bigger and better things in mind for herself and for the global community – specifically, continuing to work toward accessible education for all.
Here, Siddiqi answers a few questions about the inspiration behind her commencement address and future plans, and tells us why she may just be sticking around UCI a little bit longer.
How do you feel after being selected as a School of Social Sciences commencement speaker?
It’s a privilege to have been selected to represent the School of Social Sciences and to have the opportunity to speak in front of the professors and classmates who have inspired me, challenged me to grow, and encouraged me to contribute to the campus and community. I am admittedly a bit nervous, but I am still grateful and blessed to be able to represent and thank the Class of 2018 and those who have helped us to get to this point in our lives.
What message do you hope to get across to your fellow graduating Anteaters?
The message I hope to impart to my fellow graduating Anteaters is to continue to cultivate the passions that we discovered and forged here to make a difference for our community.
What or who inspired your commencement address?
While I was encouraged to apply to speak at commencement by my professors, my commencement address is inspired by my fellow graduates. As former news editor for The New University and now as President of Peaceful Passions, a student organization that works to raise awareness and create opportunities for refugees, I have seen the impact of Social Sciences students’ efforts to assist marginalized communities and address injustice. I hope to share a few anecdotes in my commencement address.
Last November you held a fundraiser to establish a scholarship fund for refugee students in line with your Dalai Lama project. Can you tell us a little about that fundraiser and people’s reactions?
We held a fundraiser for the Refugee Students Scholarship Program in November 2017 and we were able to raise over $90,000 to provide scholarships to need-based refugees and asylum seekers accepted to a University of California campus. Community members who attended were really inspired by the fact that undergraduate students created and fundraised for this scholarship program; it’s actually the first student-led scholarship program for displaced students in the country. It certainly exceeded my expectations, and I was very blessed to have the support of the UCI School of Social Sciences, faculty members, students, local community organizations, and community members.
What is next for that project?
In addition to providing funding to UC-bound displaced students, we also hope to provide mentorship and guidance on UC admissions. This quarter, we will be holding an informational workshop on the UC Transfer Admissions process and the Refugee Students Scholarship Program for prospective applicants. We will also finalize the application for the Refugee Students Scholarship Program so that it is available for displaced students commencing or continuing at a UC during the 2019-20 academic year.
Following commencement, what are your plans?
The day after commencement, I will be leaving for Oakland to participate in the Middlebury Language School’s 8-week Arabic immersion program. In the fall, I will begin law school at the UCI School of Law. I'm excited to be near the campus so that I can continue to oversee the Refugee Students Scholarship Program, and I hope to continue to cultivate the relationships and network I have created with faculty and students at the main campus. In law school, I hope to focus on international and refugee law, so that I can continue to assist and advocate for displaced people, but at a macro level.
What are you most looking forward to after finishing your degree?
This is a bit silly, but I look forward to purchasing myself a giant UCI anteater plush as my graduation present.
Siddiqi will speak at the School of Social Sciences evening commencement ceremony, which will be held at the Bren Events Center at 6:00pm on June 15, 2018. Sociology and Business Economics senior Amy Hu will speak at the 3:00pm afternoon ceremony.