America’s Essence

August 20, 2010 Mrs. Jones - Weis Sherdel
The following article is by Weis Sherdel, a 2010 graduate of the MBA Evening Program at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, reflecting upon his experiences as an immigrant and how teachers and education helped him achieve his American Dream.
When I came to America from Afghanistan 20 years ago, my first challenge was learning English. I was 14 years old. I remember looking up words in the dictionary, only to find myself more confused as the definitions contained more obscure and alien words. I stayed up late, sometimes all night, to make some sense of my schoolwork and prepare for the next day.
Then I met Mrs. Jones.
A radiant woman who spoke softly and always had a warm smile, Mrs. Jones taught reading comprehension at West Potomac High School in Alexandria, Va. I became her regular visitor, often staying after school two or three times a week to get help with English. She never said no and was always ready to help me.   
We would read books like Of Mice and Men and Huckleberry Finn. She showed me how to unravel the meaning of new words by considering them in the context of the paragraph. She brought characters to life by reading with proper expression and tone and explained complex writing, like Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in simple terms I could understand. She helped with my own writing, patiently explaining where to place a comma or how to make the subject and verb agree.
We often became so engrossed in reading that I lost track of time and even missed the after-school bus. On those days, Mrs. Jones not only helped me with English, but also drove me home. She was an angel who crossed my path in a new land, a generous soul whose friendship and love continue to remind me of why I fell in love with America.
My family and I came to the United States to escape the Soviet war in Afghanistan when I was in 8th grade. My father, who was a high school German teacher in Kabul, arrived here with $100 to feed a family of five. He started working as a cashier, while I enrolled in high school and worked evenings and weekends at a fast food restaurant to help pay the bills. I had to keep my age a secret, as I was two years younger than the legal working age of 16 in Virginia.
In Afghanistan, I had been a star student, but in America, I could barely read street signs or ask someone where to find a bathroom. I was lost and overwhelmed.
My father knew that life would only get better through hard work and education, so my brothers and I often heard the words: “Even if I have to sell my clothes on the street so you can go to school, I will do it.”
With Mrs. Jones’ help, my English quickly improved and I started excelling in academics. After high school, I attended the University of Virginia, where I received a bachelor’s in engineering with high distinction. After graduation, I accepted a position with a consulting firm, where I began earning a handsome salary.
I still remember handing my father my first paycheck. He knelt in prayer and touched his forehead on the ground – as Muslims do – to thank God for his son’s success. He then hugged me as we both shed tears of joy.
Life began improving. I bought a home for my family. Each of us had a separate room, a relief from eight years of living in a crammed two-bedroom apartment.
I also got involved in the Afghan American community in Washington D.C., where I co-founded and led the American Society of Afghan Professionals (ASAP), a non-profit organization dedicated to helping new immigrants settle in and acclimate themselves to the United States. After the horrible incidents of September 11, 2001, ASAP helped build a bridge of understanding between the United States and Afghanistan, my two homes.
Immigrants come to America in search of a better life. In my experience, they are not looking for hand-outs, but for the opportunity to earn their way. They are here not for the purpose of imposing their culture or religion, but simply for the opportunity to practice them in peace.
Immigrants quickly become productive and often important members of society. As an immigrant, I cherish the freedom and opportunity of America, and proudly call myself an American. I’ve learned that success lies in working hard, in thinking creatively and boldly, and in being responsible and accountable.
My life in America and my accomplishments thus far pale in comparison to the extraordinary achievements of immigrants like Albert Einstein, Andrew Carnegie, and Hakeem Olajuwon who became valuable contributors to the economic and civic life of their new country. But in its own right, my life is an example of the American Dream. It is a story of hard work; a story of American generosity and friendship; a story of a land so great that it gives every person a chance at a better life.
In 2007, I returned to school to pursue a master’s degree in Business Administration at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. After three years of working full time, attending classes in the evenings, and caring for my elderly father, I graduated last May in the top 10 percent of my class. At the commencement ceremony, I was fortunate to be joined by my father, mother, brothers, and 20 other relatives and friends. But the person I was most thrilled to see at the ceremony was Mrs. Jones, still wearing that beautiful smile and cheering for her student who could barely read English 20 years before.
Pictured are Weis Sherdel and Mrs. DeJuana Jones at the May 21, 2010 Georgetown University MBA Commencement Ceremony.