June 13, 2022Print | PDF
Reaching the convocation stage is the end goal of a university student’s academic journey but getting there isn’t always easy. Just ask Wilfrid Laurier University graduand Alik Sarian.
In 2016, the Syrian conflict forced Sarian and her family to flee their home for Lebanon. Sarian began her undergraduate studies in biology at Haigazian University in Beirut, but with little chance for future opportunities as a Syrian in Lebanon, she began investigating academic options abroad. In August 2019, Sarian left her family behind to make her way to Laurier’s Waterloo campus to study in the Health Sciences program with scholarship support from the International Students Overcoming War (ISOW) student club.
ISOW is a student-run and student-led initiative at Laurier which provides scholarship support to students whose studies have been interrupted due to conflict in their home countries. ISOW also partners with international organizations such as Daughters for Life, the Iraqi and Syrian Student Project, Jusoor Syria and Prospect Burma, which contribute to the scholarship fund to support scholars from war-torn countries. Since 2013, 23 scholars at Laurier have received support through the ISOW initiative.
On June 14, Sarian will cross the convocation stage and receive her Bachelor of Science degree. She will also be honoured with a Governor General’s Academic Medal, which is awarded to students who have achieved the highest academic standing in their graduating class — a perfect 12.0 grade point average.
The professors know you by name and ask about your work; they care about how you’re doing.
Below, Sarian discusses her Laurier experience, her desire to help others and her plans for a golden future.
Laurier’s Health Sciences program is exciting and unique. It is a multidisciplinary program, which means students get to study an array of topics related to health. That has been important for me as I want to attend medical school. The faculty within the program are also incredible. I have had some professors teach me multiple courses, which paved the way for one-on-one connections. The professors know you by name and ask about your work; they care about how you’re doing. I have been fortunate to work with Assistant Professor Todd Coleman as a research assistant and publish two papers with him, including my thesis which investigates health disparities among marginalized gender populations in Canada.
ISOW scholars are very active within the club and support a variety of projects and initiatives. This year, I was part of the committee that selected incoming ISOW scholars for the 2022/23 academic year. I also supported ISOW’s presentation and pitch to the Students’ Union for additional funding. If there is an opportunity to get involved and help, ISOW scholars do. We are not passive recipients of support.
Helping others keeps me going; it has become a big part of who I am.
The last four years at Laurier have taught me a lot about mindset and being flexible. I like to plan and be in control, but life doesn’t always work that way. I have learned that it is ok to ‘lose control’ if I am still actively working toward my goal.
My Laurier experience has also solidified my belief in paying it forward. I am so grateful for the opportunity to come to Laurier, and I haven’t taken my experience for granted. During the last three years, I have volunteered as a mentor with Syrian Youth Empowerment, which helps Syrian high school students find postsecondary opportunities abroad. It really excites me. I also volunteer at Sanctuary Refugee Health Centre in Kitchener as an interpreter, screener and receptionist. It is humbling and eye-opening to witness refugees, who are new to the language and culture, try to explain their ailments to a doctor. They are truly starting from scratch here, and there is no one to hold their hand as they navigate their new life. Helping others keeps me going; it has become a big part of who I am.
I think that will be an extraordinary moment but also bittersweet, as I haven’t seen my family in three years, and they won’t be able to attend in person. However, I have been an undergraduate student at different schools since 2016, so crossing that stage will be nice. I am excited to start the next chapter in my life. I have big hopes and dreams.
I plan on going to medical school and pursuing a career in pediatric oncology. While in Lebanon, I volunteered at the Children’s Cancer Centre of Lebanon, which treats young cancer patients free of charge. As a volunteer, I helped with recreational activities – like games, music and art lessons – for children admitted to inpatient services. Those children made a lasting impression on me, and that is where I want to focus my career.
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