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Why Brigham Young University? That is a question I have been asked repeatedly during the past four years. It never failed to make me think about the journey I embarked on the day I applied for the BYU Jerusalem Center scholarship. As a Palestinian Muslim from Jerusalem—a city so beautiful yet extremely exhausted from years of endless struggle—I have been fortunate enough to receive the best education possible, even though I come from a part of the world where obtaining a high-level education is not the reality for many people.

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I was born to parents who believed in the importance of education and its impact on our development. They sacrificed a lot in order to provide me and my five siblings with the most important weapons of our time: good education and open hearts. At times my daily journey entailed going through checkpoints with hours-long waits and degrading conditions. As much as my parents wanted me to stay by their sides, they encouraged me to seize any educational opportunity, whether locally or internationally, that came my way to help build a better reality for myself and the generations to follow. I was lucky to be one of three Palestinian students accepted for the scholarship.

Throughout my BYU experience I got the chance to grow academically, spiritually, and culturally. Being a part of a student body in which the majority of students are devout members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has given me a reason to reflect on my own religion—a religion of peace and kindness. I also got to meet people from different parts of the world who taught me a lot about myself and the universe we share. The people I met at BYU conformed with the vision my parents had always tried to share with me—one of coexistence, compassion, and excellence.

While at BYU, I participated in Model United Nations conferences and study

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abroad programs to learn about global issues and to explore new cultures and perspectives. I served as the president of BYU's National Student Speech-Language Hearing Association, working with my fellow officers and faculty members to organize events to help students learn about our field. These experiences and others have equipped me with the knowledge I need to realize a vision of Palestine's future that I can share with other young Palestinians—a promising future of a free, safe, self-reliant state in which no child grows up without shelter, education, or health care. My personal commitment toward fulfilling this prosperous image of Palestine is to work as a speech-language pathologist and audiologist who helps people communicate and overcome their disabilities—thus greatly impacting their lives forever.

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As a young woman, I share with my fellow students an increased level of anxiety as we witness an unprecedented level of hate, fear, polarization, and uncertainty. However, I am beyond confident to say that my story at BYU is one that is based on the embracement and acceptance I witnessed as a young Muslim female in Provo, Utah. I left my country hoping to represent a voice of change, a voice of hope, and a voice of positivity. And here I am today, a proud BYU alumna representing these voices and adding my voice of gratitude for the years I spent at BYU and for the priceless friendships and acquaintances I encountered while living there.

Written by Dina Budeiri

Photos courtesy of Dina Budeiri