I found out during my last two years of college the names of some of the funds that had helped pay for my college education. One of these funds was established in the name of a Senior Editor at the Reader’s Digest.
Over the past year I’ve been at a loss of what to write, and whom to write for, if to write at all. I went back to the people that wanted me to write to find out why.
The letter that follows is addressed to secretary of the class to which the aforementioned editor belonged. It explains who I am and how the affection of some people (who I have never met) towards a loved one (who I have also never met) and their resulting generosity affected me.
I write to you today to thank the family, friends and colleagues of Mr William Hard Jr, member of your class, in whose name a scholarship was established that helped support my way through a Princeton undergraduate degree.
I graduated last year as a member of the Class of 2013, with a major in Computer Science, a certificate in the Woodrow Wilson School, and a curiosity in everything else.
During the spring semester of my junior year, I was informed of the involvement of the William Hard, Jr., ’30 Memorial Scholarship in helping me through college. I was told that this scholarship became a part of my award the subsequent year as well. The timeline of events here demands an apology, as a result of my tardiness in offering my sincerest gratitude for what is perhaps the greatest gift I have ever received from anyone on Earth.
As part of this apology I wish to offer the following explanations (which are intended to be not so much a justification for this belated letter, but rather an exposition of my feelings towards receiving such a tremendous favor).
The first is that I have always wanted to get this letter right, and have hence always been scared to write it. This is the excuse that takes the well known form of: I kept it for later because I wanted to put my full energy and focus towards it. As played out as this form of excuse tends to be, I can only offer an expression of deep sincerity in this emotion, and hope that I am able to communicate how much I value the support of your classmate and his well-wishers. I hope I can offer as earnest of an expression of gratitude that their gesture deserves.
The second is that I have somewhat been at a loss about what exactly to say. I have always expected to offer my deepest thanks, but the need for and source of that gesture seems obvious. Hence that alone always felt incomplete as a first communication with those that helped support my way through college. And I have also always been unsure as to how exactly I should introduce myself as the beneficiary of my sponsors’ efforts. This latter bit is partly a function of this being always a hard question for me to answer, from freshman ice-breakers to meeting new friends. But it is also partly a function of me wanting to provide the reassurance that the time, effort and resources of my benefactors went to a use that would make them happy and proud. I worry still whether I can fully guarantee the worthiness of myself to have received this award, or the assurance that I used it as best I could. There are always doubts, and perhaps there always will be.
My fear of talking about myself having been laid out, I will attempt it nonetheless in the hope that I can offer some insight into my interests, beliefs and work which may paint a picture to what is otherwise the somewhat invisible impact of aid resources.
I’m from Lahore, Pakistan where I was born and raised. Princeton was the second place I called home.
Although I graduated with a major in Computer Science & a certificate in the Woodrow Wilson School, my interests and corresponding coursework was a little more diverse. Thanks to Princeton’s flexibility & liberal arts approach, I was able to study music, photography, near eastern studies, the sciences and journalism. I was also able to study abroad at Oxford my Junior fall, where I spent time studying the EU, British History, Ethnomusicology & Computer Science.
Some point out that I may have spread myself thin, but I think I may have not spread myself thin enough. There was lots more I wanted to study, but alas that will require me to read on my own time.
I now work for Microsoft Corporation in Seattle, where I help the engineering and design teams build software used by millions of people every day. This involves finding answers to design questions as big as how you should search for anything on your phone, to how far apart two pieces of text should be on a page. The answers to these questions are not arbitrary or one-dimensional. They are complex, dense and involve many intertwined disciplines – the perfect use of a liberal arts education. This job also involves an unholy amount of email, which Princeton has also prepared me for.
On the side I have spent time writing, helping high school students apply to college, and playing rock music.
I came into Princeton pretty certain that I would get my hands dirty with Computer Science. It took me one class my freshman fall to be sure that this would be my major. Granted, as I neared the end of my time at Princeton, I questioned whether I should have considered majoring in something else. But my choice was based out of a boyish innocence and obsession with software and the innovation of the tech industry in general. In school I began learning how to build rudimentary websites and animations. I then read about Apple and Google and Microsoft, and it seemed clear to me then that this was what I was interested in doing. I could spend hours trying to build things on a computer,
￼thinking of new products, imagining I could build the next big thing. This interest in product design remains with me still, albeit attached to a slightly more complex understanding of technology and the humans that used them.
In fact I realized during my time at Princeton that an understanding of humans was often more interesting than an understanding of technology. This is the thread that allowed me to connect a diverse set of coursework, that spanned from Ethnomusicology, to Sufi Philosophy, to Public Policy and Photography. Central to my coursework at Princeton, and to my time there in general was the belief that I was there to form a better understanding of the world as it was: of the people that inhabited it and of the thought they had put together. This was to empower me to understand better my position in the broader world and to give me the capability to change it for the better.
I often joked to interviewers for various jobs I was applying to that my interests in art, politics and technology had no intersections. But I realized during my time at Princeton, and even more so afterwards, that the common thread was the need to establish a holistic understanding of the world. This conclusion I was only able to reach through fabled conversations in hallways and over meals, with cherished friends, colleagues and teachers. But this thought took its real form through writing, which I was luckily able to publish in the Daily Princetonian (whose reach awes me still).
Growing up, my parents never expressed their desire for me to pick up any profession in particular. They allowed me to think on my own and to form my own opinions. But the one thing I was asked to do was to write. I am not completely sure what compelled them to push me in this direction, but writing has made me a better thinker and a better person.
At times, motivating myself to write has been difficult, because I was unsure who cared. I was unsure who cared what I thought, and what difference my putting it in writing would make. But I remembered then that the William Hard, Jr., ’30 Memorial Scholarship had been formed specifically to aid a student with interest and ability in expository writing. This gives me hope, and assurance that people do care. And that with some effort I may be able to make a small difference somewhere, to someone. With this letter, I hope to restart writing regularly once again and publishing online as I have before.
Some time in my senior year, my friends and peers began to see the writer as a part of my identity. And in my gratitude I wish to promise your classmate and his well-wishers that I will do what I can to have the writer remain a part of my identity, and for this writer to always write for the betterment of the world.
I came into Princeton knowing so little, and I left knowing the most important fact of all: that I still know very little. The humility inspired in me by this belief is similar to the effect of putting my head around the generosity of my sponsors.
I don’t know where or who I would be without Princeton. And I would not have been at Princeton without financial aid. In short I am who I am and I can do what I can do because of the generosity of those that loved Mr William Hard. To them, and to Mr William Hard himself, who must have been a great man to inspire such a beautiful tribute, I am eternally grateful.
I sometimes wonder if I can ever give the world what has been given to me. I hope that in my life I can add to the world as the many who have supported me have done, and perhaps have hoped I do also. In a sense this letter of gratitude does not end here, but will be played continuously as I do anything of worth in my life.
Sincere and best regards,
Zeerak Ahmed ’13.