Graphic Design, Valedictorian
There is always room to learn more.
Tell us about your journey to VCU?
I had just finished my high school and I was really interested in pursuing a career in animation. I wanted to be a character designer. I was really crazy about that. I even did an advanced diploma in multimedia animation. But I couldn’t finish my studies because I needed to be there for my family. I had to give up my education to work and help support my family. I worked as a graphic designer for six years in various sectors and companies with different clients.
Five years ago, I was sitting with my friends at a cafe, crying over work, thinking, is this what I’m doing with my life? I had regrets that I couldn’t complete my education, and how I had ended up working in a job I was not that passionate about.
And one of my dear friends suggested that I should finish my BFA. At the time, I thought the idea was crazy, but it did get me thinking. I was encouraging my sister to apply, and thought there is no harm in applying as this might be my second chance at life. So I took some time off work, completed my portfolio and applied. To my surprise, I was accepted, as was my sister. Quitting my job and coming back to finish my education was a huge risk I took as I was unsure about the future moving forward. But I am glad I made this choice.
The first year was hard. It was challenging. I had to get the scholarship no matter what, and maintain it.
I applied for graphic design thinking that since I’m already working in the field, I can learn more. There is always room to learn more. My perception of graphic design changed a lot, however. If I were to sum up my experience at VCU, it would be: learning by unlearning. I was really into software. I had been using graphic design software for many years. In my mind, graphic design was a software heavy field, but I was wrong. So my perception really changed when I came to VCU, I have learned that design is not just about creating visually appealing work, but it is a complex and multidisciplinary field that requires critical thinking, research, making, collaboration and cultural literacy
Do you have a specific inspiration that you draw from in the work that you do?
I am a very determined and curious person. I love to learn new things. I consider myself a jack of all trades. I might not be the best at everything, but I’m good at many things. I also get bored easily so I always try to learn new things. So I think that my biggest motivation is that I try to learn new stuff. If something piques my interest, I will dig deep into it. And even though I can’t master it, I wanna learn it for my sake. I don’t do it for other people. I learned the hard way that, sometimes you have to be a little selfish for yourself.
This was the biggest challenge because we were in Covid lockdown and we didn’t have any resources. We couldn’t use the fab lab or any other university facilities. So I had to work with whatever I had at home, like cardboard. I created the head of a futuristic, mythical, animal type of creature. And then I engineered a way to have the head move and open. I painted it, I sewed a cape for the creature. There were also audio and video components. It was quite a challenge to figure out how to make it work with the limited resources I had to deliver what I had envisioned. And, to my surprise, it was very successful in the end.
Another favorite project involved storytelling. I love telling stories, and reading stories such as visual novels – comic books and Japanese manga. So I got the chance to make my own comic book for the course World Building & Comic Book Narrative. I had always wanted to create my own story and I’m really proud of how it turned out.
I would say it was a bittersweet experience. I came to the university with more experience than the other students, and I was more mature, in a way, so I had a hard time blending in as a student; however, I was often a guide and mentor for my classmates. I learned more by supporting others and teaching others. I even went to my department chair and founded the Chair Student Advising Committee along with others to facilitate communication between the student body and the department.
I also initiated teaching software classes because I noticed there was a gap in the curriculum and a need among students who came to me for guidance as I was more experienced with software. I curated and taught a series of three software workshops, including ones that focused on Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign.
I also worked as a teaching assistant for graphic design and as a research assistant for some of the professors. Furthermore, I took up opportunities to volunteer, there was some fun involved, but mostly I appreciated being able to give back to the community while learning through the teaching experience at the same time as being a student.
Beside this, I had the chance to co-curate an exhibition in 2021 alongside VCU GDES alumni Hannah Fakhri, called Culture Fusion. It was for an anniversary between Qatar and the American Embassy. And now, I’m also curating another exhibition which is a collaboration between my department from VCUarts Qatar and LASALLE College of the Arts. I am very proud of these experiences and opportunities.
Sometimes, I see people like my peers who give up as soon as they see it’s not happening. They start thinking, I can’t do this, or there’s no way to do this. But, there’s always a way. That’s how I learned. No matter how hard it is, no matter how challenging it all seems, there is always a way. There are many ways to do one thing. It’s just a matter of finding the way that suits you. And, I live by that.
Another piece of advice is that it’s okay to be selfish sometimes, and to learn to say ‘no’ when it’s necessary. I have been at a stage, previously, where I’ve said yes too many times because it was hard for me to say no, and I gave too many favors. And, it took away my time and energy and was draining, and in return, my efforts I felt were not appreciated enough. So, of course, it’s good to give to the community and help others along, but take care of yourself first. Be selfish, prioritize yourself and say ‘no’ sometimes.
And, lastly, I would like to mention that before coming to VCU, I was an average student. And there is one thing I understood after being here in this nest of art and design is that, previously, I was a seed planted in the wrong soil. VCU was the right soil for me to thrive, in a sense. So that’s why here I am as a Valedictorian. I found my garden. You have to find your path, not just any path, but your garden, your own soil where you can grow and thrive and where you feel that you belong. Find your soil.