Rehana Parekh emigrated from Pakistan to the United States at the age of 20, eager to enroll in college. She took courses at Mount San Antonio College, where she quickly distinguished herself as an avid student with a hunger for knowledge. Then her journey took a vastly different direction.
Her daughter, Zainab.
“When I first held her, I knew I couldn’t come back to school,” Parekh recalls. “I was a new wife, a new mother. I couldn’t divide my time.”
Over the next seven years, she had three sons. The thrill of watching her children grow and experience life reaffirmed her decision to postpone her own educational goals — though she felt a twinge of longing every year as she enrolled her children in school. With a sigh, she filled out their enrollment forms, responding to “Mother’s Level of Education” with “some college.”
As her children grew older and more independent, Parekh recognized that her opportunity to resume her education had arrived. She re-enrolled at Mt. SAC before transferring to Cal Poly Pomona as a psychology major.
In Pakistan, she had always been an engaged student, but she worried that her long absence from the classroom might have dampened her confidence.
As she began her first class, she soon realized that staying silent would be a disservice to herself and her fellow students. Coming from another culture and being older than many classmates, she knew she could enhance discussions and bring a fresh perspective.
One interaction stands out. The discussion had turned to arranged marriages, which the majority of her classmates forcefully rejected as archaic and unfair. Parekh then spoke from experience: “I had an arranged marriage, and it’s worked out perfectly. It is not a forced thing. I had a choice in it.”
Her fellow students were skeptical at first, but she shared her first-hand understanding of the tradition and helped to reframe the concept. She was proud to provide positive insight into a topic that was widely misunderstood.
When Parekh graduates on Saturday, she will do so as the valedictorian of the College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences — and the journey will come full circle.
Her daughter, Zainab, a teaching associate at Cal Poly Pomona, will graduate at the top of her class with a master’s degree in English and an option to teach English as a second language.
“When I saw her in the cap and gown, I started crying,” Parekh says. “I felt so proud. She doesn’t understand that. When she becomes a mom, she will feel it. I feel like her accomplishment is my accomplishment.”