Valedictorian of the Class of 2017- Sirajum Sandhi


Boris Kaplan, Reporter

A great person is a subjective opinion. It is dependent on one’s worldviews and other such opinions. Yet there are some descriptions that can be agreed upon. A person who overcomes struggles that would bring others into an inescapable pit, is a great person. A person who excels in their studies, is well spoken even if they are a recent immigrant, and can be the best of their peers, is a great person. A person who can adapt to a foreign environment and use that skill in other areas of their life, is a great person. A person who puts others before themselves, even if they are the ones who need to be taken care of, is a great person. A person who inspires people who are the subject of inspiration themselves, is a great person.

Such a person is Sirajum Munira Sandhi, the Valedictorian of the Class of 2017. She is more than the number one student at our school. It is hard for me, in fact anyone, to put into words how great a person she is, but I will try none the less.

Sirajum was born and lived in the capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka. Even before she attended school, and learned more about her faith (which is dear to her), she was a dancer.  She expressed her impassioned abilities through dance from the age of 4. Siragum feels most like herself when she dances. If you saw her dance at the Talent Show or Multi-Cultural, she is a sight to behold.

In Bangladesh, she attended a rigorous private school which was in association with the University of Cambridge. The curriculum they learned came straight from Cambridge, which included English, which she speaks eloquently. She recalls that she would spend most of her days in the school and doing after school activities, only to go home and sleep. There were no real extended breaks, meaning she was in school for most of her waking hours. While she says it was not an environment for everyone, she enjoyed it thoroughly. She liked the community and the stability that it brought. She is also enjoyed the challenge that the school created, saying that the classes she took in 7th grade were equivalent to 9th grade classes provided here. However, after some time, she had to quit her dance classes due to the apparent societal stigmas against it.

When Siragum came to the United States, she attended a school that was close to her house. She didn’t like that school. Combined with the fact that she was in a new environment and didn’t know a single soul. She was disappointed that the school was focused on the Arts more than the Sciences. She could not explore and expand upon her passions. The school was hard to navigate, and it was hard to find what she needed. She looked around for a new school, FDR. To her, she only has attended two schools thus far: the private school in Bangladesh and our school.

When Sirajum came to this school, she knew no one. She would talk openly to others, but she had a hard time opening up to others. She wasn’t comfortable disclosing her personal situations. She then found a guardian angel: Ms. Turturro. Ms. Turturro “pulled her up” after hearing good things from her teachers, and put her on the track she is on now. Ms. Turturro got Sirajum the necessary credits to become a Junior. Ms. Turturro saw the immense potential in her, and put her in Honors and AP Classes; giving the best of our school has to offer. Ms. Tuturro along with the Assistant Principals, Mr. Catalano and Ms. Ocol, listened to her and became more than just staff members at the school she attends, they became her friends. They listened to her issues and helped her adjust to her school and new country. Mr. Catalano got Sirajum involved in the Multi-Cultural, which celebrates our great diversity. Ms. Ocol recommended her for the Women in Science Program at Maimonides, which gave her experience in helping people and biology.

Sirajum’s sense of identity is one that she struggles with. She usually wears her hijab in school to show devotion to her faith. She did not wear the hijab back in Bangladesh, only doing so when she became 15. When she was in Bangladesh, the sense of normalcy of being around people that acted similar, brought her further away from her culture. Being away from people like her, and around people such as the ones in FDR, with so many different cultures, world views, interests and personalities, challenged her. She became closer to her culture as something familiar, to help her be comfortable with the unfamiliar. She tries not to let her culture over shadow her as a person. She does not want to be defined as just a “Bangladeshi.” This challenge helped her grow as a person, as she again had to adapt, this time not to just the outside, but her new sense of self. She enjoys being allowed to dress in jeans one day, and a dress another, without the restrictive elements of her culture dictating what is okay for her or not. She would be asked by several people why one day she would have the hijab on, and other days, it off. I was one of those curious people as well.

Sirajum did not start learning the Qu’ran until the age of 7. She started dancing at the age of 4. When she is a scholar, the hijab is on. When she dances, it is off. The reason being is that she does not wish to disrespect Islam; which states that women cannot dance in front of men which are not their relatives. When she dances, she takes it off, because that is who she was before finding her faith; it’s the purest form to her. She believes that people naturally have more than one personality, more than one interest, all pulled together to make multi-dimensional characters.

Sirajum is critical of organized religion, in the sense that she doesn’t like the fact that there are certain things not available to be questioned. There are restrictions put upon people by religion, as a means to control. Islam, to her, is something that one must come about themselves; a person with their faith and the Qu’ran. It is similar to Martin Luther’s criticisms of Catholicism, without the anti-semitism and hate for the peasants. Imams, and other religious heads, do not fulfill their roles of teaching, rather, restricting what can be questioned and what is okay, stifling curiosity. The first word of the Qur’an is “read.” She used to be afraid of asking questions, now, in all aspects, she is willing to question and advocate for herself and others. She does not want to learn about Islam from a biased source, a more critical source is what she desires, one which she hopes to achieve by studying religion in college and learning Arabic. Arabic will allow her to read the Qur’an in its original language.

Sirajum’s time spent at FDR is one she looks back at with joy. She does not have an easy life, and many times she wanted to quit, but didn’t. She didn’t because she had a community of people around her that were willing to listen and help her in anyway possible. Even combined with her strong desire to do good, it is remarkable of how she keeps herself going. She says the FDR community is full of nice people, and she has made a good group of friends. People, the students and staff, care more about how people are doing and their situations- more than a simple number to satisfy quotas. The community at FDR is great, made even greater by her presence. She has done a lot for the school and the people in the school, putting other’s needs before her own, even when she was in need. The community has helped her motivate herself to continue to be herself.

Sirajum’s favorite moment at FDR was last year, when the staff organized the Positivity Project. In the project, students are selected, complimented, and recorded in an interview by staff members who have come to know the students well. Sirajum was selected by Ms. Turturro. Turturro, to Sirajum, is a special person in her life. Ms. Turturro calms her down, listens to her, and is there for her. Most of all, Sirajum is inspired by Ms. Turturro. During the interview, Turturro flooded Sirajum with all the great qualities she has. Sirajum had, and still has, self doubt about her worth. Ms. Turturro helped quash most of that by telling her just how amazing she is. When Turturro ended the interview by saying that she was inspired by Sirajum. Sirajum, who up until that point was silent, as she could not utter a single word of gratitude, had shivers go throughout her body. She cried, happy tears, and was hugged by Turturro.

Sirajum’s future is a bright one. She wants to major in Bio-Molecular or Cellular medicine and follow a Pre-Med Track. She became interested in biology because of her 8th grade teacher. Accoding to Sirajum, he was a “cool person” who made her “feel the lesson” when he taught. Such dedication to teaching and passion has inspired her at FDR as well. In AP Stats, with Mr. Pereira, Sirajum loves that his passion for the subject is passed to his students. She likes science and math, because numbers add stability, and science has gray areas up to multiple interpretations. Both have real world and abstract applications. Both to her are therapeutic. She is more than prepared, ready, and capable to achieve her goals.

Sirajum intends to achieve her goals at Dartmouth College. It was not her dream school, that was Yale. She was disappointed when she was rejected by Yale. Then, she got a full ride to Dartmouth and visited the school. She was incredibly satisfied with the environment there, and will make the most of it. To those who did not get their dream schools, she has this to say, “Wherever you go doesn’t matter. It is what you do in those [4] years, and how you use the resources there. You can go to a good school and be the bottom of your class, achieving nothing. It is about finding out what you need to succeed.” Success is firmly within her grasp, and she undoubtedly helped others succeed, as she is an endless well of inspiration.  It is not so much an honor for her to have attended FDR, rather, it is an honor for the school that she attended it.