Tiara Shafiq was not a usual graduate of Sultan Ibrahim's Girls School in Johor, Malaysia. In a high-pressure school that pushes for its graduates to immediately head to college and then into the professional world, Shafiq had chosen a different path. She took a year off after secondary school to catch up on all of the things she hadn't had the chance to explore while attending Ibrahim's. She took dance classes, a radio workshop, joined a youth journalist program and travelled the world. Her experiences that year were extraordinary, and she wanted to share them with students at her old school. It had always bothered her that the school hadn't discussed possibilities for their graduates beyond more schooling and immediate work. In 2005, Shafiq contacted her former headmistress and asked if she could talk to some current students on a Saturday (the free day for most Ibrahim's girls). She got permission and started working on what she wanted to say. She knew that she wanted to touch on how sick she was of the "how to do well on exams" type of talks she'd received as a student, and that she wanted to share the richness of the experiences she'd had during her gap year.
What we did
Shafiq was surprised to arrive at her talk and find not a handful of students, but three years worth of girls sitting, waiting patiently. With five to six classes for each year, and 40 students per class, it was suddenly a large speaking engagement. Shafiq told the students about how her own life had been happy and fulfilling, despite not having straight A grades and not pursuing science or medicine. She encouraged the students to pursue passions, to find subjects that interested them, and to not worry about the pressure of exams or grades.
Students responded extremely positively to Shafiq's talk. A number of younger students that Shafiq had known while attending Ibrahim told her that they had been stressed and unsure of what to do with their lives upon graduation, but that now they felt inspired and that they had a role model to look up to. This reaffirmed what Shafiq had been feeling - that as an older graduate, she could serve as a big sister and a calming force in the girls lives. With a little bit of initiative, Shafiq had made a difference in the lives of hundreds of students.