#BlackLivesMatter essay rewards an activist ally

Sam Rosenblatt, Staff Writer

How does one differentiate themselves from the thousands of other talented musicians, athletes, scientists, volunteers, school newspaper writers, aspiring actors, and class officers without sounding too confident or too cliché, especially when applying to the most selective universities in the United States?

High school senior Ziad Ahmed of Princeton, N.J. found one possible answer: #BlackLivesMatter.

Ahmed received admission into Stanford University after writing “#BlackLivesMatter” 100 times on a 100 word supplemental essay that asked, “What matters to you, and why?”

Ahmed told news sources that he chose this approach to the essay as a way to add “voice” to the story his application presented, which already featured his passion for activism as a Muslim American who has experienced racism in his past.

“It was important that to me that the admissions officers literally hear my impatience for justice and the significance of this issue,” Ahmed said. “To me, to be Muslim is to be a BLM ally.”

Repeating the hashtag of a controversial movement in lieu of normal sentences on a supplemental essay is a risky decision in the first place, let alone for an application to Stanford, which admitted just 4.65 percent of applicants to the class of 2021.

Critics may be angered because they do not support the direction of the Black Lives Matter movement and see admitting Ahmed as an endorsement of the movement. They may be frustrated that Ahmed went for a simple response to this Stanford essay while others may have worked for a long time to find the perfect words to express their thoughts. They may even think that Ahmed treated this supplemental essay as a joke with his answer.

Ahmed is not in any way an endorsement of the Black Lives Matter movement. Moreover, Ahmed certainly did not treat this essay as a joke. Like most Stanford applicants, he thought carefully about what he wanted to say before arriving at his final essay.

Ahmed’s achievements as a student and a young man—including founding an anti-discrimination organization called Redefy, interning for the 2016 presidential campaign of Martin O’Malley and volunteering with the Hillary Clinton campaign, and receiving recognition from former President Barack Obama at a White House dinner in 2015—demonstrate an exemplary form of dedication that Stanford looks for in prospective students. These qualifications helped Ahmed gain admission to Princeton University and Yale University, neither of which required the same supplemental essay as Stanford.

College admissions is not a fair process. Students are more than just a few pieces of paper, but unfortunately those who don’t stand out will amount to just that for the colleges that reject them. Rather than antagonizing Ahmed for his essay, people should commend him not only for finding a way to set himself apart from the pack, but also for his achievements that helped him get there.

In fact, we should appreciate a student’s qualities and accomplishments regardless of whether they received admission to a school or not. Every one of us has amazing stories. An acceptance or rejection letter shouldn’t change their value.

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