Long journey passes milestone

KHS alum looks back on difficult road as she graduates WCC
by Susan O’Neill
SUGAR GROVE—Ask just about anyone at Waubonsee Community College, and they will likely say that Sugar Grove resident Sophia Zafar, who graduated in May with an Associate’s Degree in Nursing, is on her way to a successful life and career.

While active in student government and other activities, as well as working part-time at Provena Mercy Medical Center in Aurora, 19-year-old Zafar was able to maintain a 3.9 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale.

Student Activities Specialist Rosie Martinez came to know Zafar through her work with the Student Senate and other college clubs, including the honor society Phi Theta Kappa.

“She was likeable and very visible on campus,” Martinez said. “She was not afraid of going up to new students and introducing herself.”

Zafar was elected to the Student Senate in her first year at Waubonsee, and went on this year to become a student trustee on the Waubonsee Board of Directors.

“The role of student trustee is a student-elected position that requires leadership, responsibility and integrity,” Waubsonsee President Christine Sobek said. “Sofia took her responsibility very seriously and was respected by her peers and her fellow board members as she represented the student body.”

A Kaneland High School graduate, Zafar will go on to Northern Illinois University in the fall to pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing. She leaves Waubonsee with high praise from Sobek.

“She is a confident, personable, responsible and intelligent young woman,” Sobek said. ”She has tremendous leadership potential and has been an asset to Waubonsee Community College.”

Zafar was not always so confident. She suffered through much discrimination as a teenager and had to overcome many attacks on her self-esteem to become the self-assured young lady she is today.

Zafar and her mother and sister came to the United States from Pakistan in April 2001. She turned 12 that year. She and her family had much to adjust to—a new country, new language, new customs.

Then the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, happened, and people’s attitudes toward her and her family abruptly changed. Although Pakistan is not an Arab state, many people around Zafar blamed her and people like her for what happened.

“People were so mean to me,” Zafar said. “I didn’t know why. I was called a terrorist. People would ask me, ‘Is Osama bin Laden your dad?’ It was crazy. Even my teachers—there was a shift in their attitude toward me.”

Zafar said she became very depressed during that time. She lost her confidence in herself and felt that no one understood her.

Zafar, who is a Muslim, said she was embarrassed about her background during that time.

“I used to try to hide who I was,” she said. “I hated who I was, because I wanted people to like me.”

Slowly, she regained her self-confidence. She became involved in school and continued to achieve. Her older sister, who obtained a CPA, was an inspiration to her, as was her mother, who conducts blood drives for Heartland Blood Centers.

“I really wanted to prove myself,” she said.

After finishing her freshman year at West Aurora High School, she and her family moved to Sugar Grove. She spent her last three years at Kaneland High School.

She began to broaden her horizons and take on leadership roles. She founded a club called Global Cultures, a group that celebrates people’s varying backgrounds. She was president of PODA, Prevention of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, whose purpose is to educate students on the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

During her senior year at Kaneland, Zafar had a Spanish teacher named Mrs. Wilson who saw her great potential. Through Wilson’s recommendation, Zafar was awarded the Gustafson Scholarship, which paid for her tuition to Waubonsee.

Zafar said she has always wanted to be a nurse.

“Nurses have a better connection with their patients (than doctors),” she said. “They are the heart of a hospital. They carry the power of healing lives.”

Zafar should know. She started out by healing her own.