Prof’s caring heart led this Bear from Syrian civil war to a Baylor degree
Amjad Dabi is one of the 2,500+ members of Baylor’s Class of 2017 who will take the symbolic walk from undergraduate to graduate this weekend during Baylor’s Spring Commencement ceremonies. For Dabi, who will receive his Bachelor’s of Music degree in piano pedagogy, that walk has been nearly eight years in the making, thousands of miles and a war-torn world away from where he began his collegiate journey.
Dabi is from Syria, a nation gripped in a devastating civil war for the last six years. Half a million Syrians have lost their lives in the war, and millions more have given up everything to flee the violence. For Amjad, the promise of a Baylor education, propelled by the kindness of people he barely knew, proved to be his ticket out.
Amjad’s journey to Baylor actually began before the war started, back in 2010. While studying music at a local conservatory, he met Dr. Bradley Bolen, a Baylor music professor who travels the world with “American Voices,” a cross-cultural nonprofit that provides support to music students around the world. Dabi appreciated Bolen’s encouragement to consider Baylor, but he was content with the path he was on; in addition to studying music, he was on his way to earning a degree in civil engineering. To leave would mean starting his education from scratch.
Then came the war. By 2012, Dabi’s hometown of Damascus was no longer safe; things got even worse when the Syrian economy collapsed and his parents’ life savings plummeted almost overnight. Bolen stayed in touch with Amjad, and when a car bomb exploded right outside his home later that year, he decided it was time to go.
Through the efforts of Bolen and American Voices, Dabi ended up in Thailand, where he took the SAT and prepared an application. In 2013, he received a full scholarship to Baylor. Bolen and others at Seventh & James Baptist Church worked out a free place for him to live, and so that fall, Dabi arrived at Baylor as a 23-year-old freshman.
Over the last four years, Amjad has thrived as a student. Dr. Bowen and other Baylor staff members and students served as surrogate parents and siblings, helping him whenever he had a need or felt the weight of the situation back home. “Syria is with me all the time,” he says. “I’m here, but I check the news three or four times a day. My family is still there, and channels of communication are not reliable. I hope I can take what I’ve learned to help them eventually.” When his worries for his homeland became too strong, he found refuge in recital halls and practice rooms, expressing on the piano what words sometimes could not. Music, he says, “is a good way to externalize whatever emotions you’re having. It helps you deal with and understand your own emotions.”
This weekend, eight years after his college career was interrupted by catastrophe, Amjad will receive his diploma. “To say I’m over the moon is putting it mildly,” he says. “It feels like a milestone I’ve achieved in my life. Circumstances outside our control happen. For me, this is a symbol of overcoming a lot of challenges.”
In addition to earning his piano pedagogy degree, he also entered the pre-med track at Baylor. This fall, he will go straight into Baylor’s Environmental Science Ph.D. program, where he’ll work in the lab of Dr. Erica Bruce studying the relationship between human health and environmental toxins. He hopes to help his family in the years ahead, either financially or bureaucratically. He’ll be able to in part because so many Baylor people helped him.
“The kindness of people really amazes you. So many people here at Baylor cared. It’s such a good remedy when you’ve seen the atrocious things people are capable of doing. To see kindness was a good perspective for me to be privy to. It’s been a lot of sweat and tears, and it motivates me that so many people have put their faith in me. People here funded my entire education. I want to show them it was a good investment.”
Sic ’em, Amjad!
(Photo via The Baylor Lariat)