Embracing Accomplishments: Interviews with DFL’s 5 New Alumni of Spring 2023

As our new scholars have new beginnings, our outgoing DFL graduates mark the end of their respective academic journeys with pride and celebration. We are congratulating 5 DFL scholars on their respective graduations this spring, each one serving as an unforgettable milestone. Yousra Benradi, Liyan Alkawafhah, Saja Saymeh, Sara Saad and Rasha Aljbour Almajali are DFL’s Class of 2023, and we could not be more proud of each and every one of them for their dedication and perseverance over the course of their academic journeys, leading up to their delightful graduation ceremonies. We were able to catch up with some of the graduates at the height of the summer season now that all the festivities have come to an end to hear more about their personal experiences and what the roadmap for the future looks like for each of them.


The first graduate we sat down with was Liyan Alkawafhah, a twenty-two year old double-major graduate of the University of Calgary. Liyan was a student of International Relations and Political Science, fusing her interests in global diplomacy and advocacy with her curiosity about the political process. 

Initially, she was only a student of International Relations, but early on in her undergraduate degree, she understood that rather than taking electives, she felt more fulfilled by blocking in courses that challenged and taught her more, and, once approved, she ended up filling the majority of her non-degree required credits with political science courses. Her first impression of the University of Calgary still holds true even after her graduation. Liyan still holds an immense fondness for the school and the mountainous city of Calgary which became her home away from home during her undergraduate studies. She especially expressed gratitude towards the International Department’s team who were there for her every step of the way alongside DFL. 

As early as her freshman year, Liyan always had the goal of working with and uplifting marginalised communities. The university experience allowed her to refine this core goal by opening up new pathways for her to launch initiatives of her own or joining others. To that end, Liyan was able to work as a Teaching Assistant while also working part-time, keeping productive throughout the week and staying connected with faculty and peers which was a useful tactic in reducing the feelings of homesickness that many international students experience.

In looking back on the impact of DFL on her personal experience, Liyan felt that she wasn’t fully able to quantify the effects being a scholarship recipient had on her and the trajectory of her life.  “Not only is it the opportunity to move abroad and get the best education I can get, but it’s also the mindset that you are there to help others achieve their goals,” She said, while discussing the foundation. She went on to say: 

“When it comes to women in the Middle East, it’s rather unfortunate that we don’t get the support we should be getting. We’re accomplished, we’re smart, we’re extremely driven people. It’s usually that these women are not given the opportunity or the tools to thrive. Daughters for Life showing me that—no, it can happen. It happened with me, it’ll happen with other people (scholars), it pushed me forward to give back to my community, women in Jordan and the Middle East, with the expertise I received from Daughters for Life.” 

Liyan felt deeply motivated to ensure that she is not the only success story from her community, and aims to keep the door open for other young women who were just like her and who possess an infinite potential themselves. As a DFL scholar, Liyan felt that she was no longer silenced and that she could stand up for women like her who have interests in other fields, and that she can more confidently argue for the inherent value of those fields in running a functional and harmonious society.

We asked Liyan what her advice is for incoming DFL scholars and new university students alike. She emphasised connecting with the campus community in tangible ways such as joining clubs or groups and pursuing research opportunities. “Don’t feel discouraged,” She said, “Dive deep into your interests.” For future DFL scholarship applicants in particular, Liyan’s advice was for them not to feel overwhelmed by the expectations of others and her final word of advice for anyone going through the post-secondary experience was that they should slow down and refrain from rushing through the experience. 

Liyan will be attending the University of Pennsylvania in the Fall of 2023 to pursue her Masters in Social Policy and Practice with Data Analytics as a specialisation. We’re so excited to continue to watch her flourish as she takes this next step.


Saja Saymeh was our second interviewee and is a twenty-five year old graduate of Wilfrid Laurier University’s Global Studies program, having selected the Management Option. She was drawn to the program thanks to its unique quality since there were no such programs with multiple concentrations offered at the institutions of her home country of Palestine, and thanks to an alignment with her personal interests that were always centred on happenings around the world. By the conclusion of her undergraduate studies, Saja had taken up a focused concentration in International Development with a research specialization. 

We asked Saja to look back on her freshman year as a newcomer both to Wilfrid Laurier University and to Canada as a whole as an international student, asking her to reflect on how she changed over the course of the last four years. She illustrated her past self as a fairly shy student who was hesitant and uncertain as a result of stepping into an entirely new world for the first time. “It was a new world,” She said, “[A] new educational system, culture, language.” 

With no shortage of things to adjust to, Saja spent her undergraduate studies coming out of her shell, step by step, until she became the confident graduate we sat down with on a sunny morning in July. With DFL and International Students Overcoming War or ISOW for short, an initiative run by Wilfrid Laurier that “brings students, staff and faculty together to enable students from war conflict countries to study in safety and security in Canada”, Saja developed the ability to ask for help when she needed it without apprehension, her worries slowly but surely diminishing while her confidence began to grow.

When reflecting on her first arrival to Waterloo, Saja compared the size of the city to her hometown of Gaza. “In the context of the rest of Canada, Waterloo is just a small city,” She noted, “But compared to Gaza, it’s very big and diverse.” Over time, the city became more familiar to her and therefore shrunk when held up to the size of Canada’s larger metropolises, but Saja commended Waterloo as a highly student-friendly place and an enjoyable place to be overall that she remains fond of.


We also caught up with Sara Saad, a fresh McMaster University graduate who received her undergraduate degree in Engineering. As a high-achieving former student of the Egyptian Maadi STEM School for Girls, Sara’s pursuit of a deeper dive into all things engineering was a natural linear progression guided by the interests she discovered while in high school. Her involvement in her capstone projects during high school revealed her own curiosity and passion for the subject, which later led her down the path to deepen her knowledge in the field at a more advanced post-secondary level. 

Her reflections on her early days as a brand new DFL scholar are fond ones. Sara arrived in Canada, eager to explore its diversity. Over the years, she expressed that her journey of adjustment, learning and cultural exchange led to the enhancement of my communication skills, a heightened sense of professionalism, and the ability to adeptly manage multiple tasks. “I also developed a futuristic perspective,” She added, “Viewing situations from various angles, and instilled in myself the commitment to continuous learning.” If she had the chance to travel back in time to meet herself at the start of her university experience, she said that she would encourage herself down the same path that led to what she assesses as a successful transformation into who she is today, reinforcing the value of the entire process.

As a student of McMaster University, Sara feels that her view of the school has not changed since her arrival on campus four long years ago. 

“When I first encountered McMaster, I perceived it as one of Canada’s premier institutions, particularly supportive of women in engineering. The university’s serene and natural environment seemed conducive to both personal and academic growth. My perception of McMaster has evolved to encompass its role as a hub for diverse opportunities and markets.”

Sara went on to mention that she believes the university remains a place where the finest of professors, faculty leaders and members, colleagues and friends can contribute to personal and professional development, nurturing lifelong friendships and catering to diverse interests. 

Switching gears to touch on the effects of the scholarship program, Sara was passionate in her response. “The enduring impact of this scholarship resides in its role as a catalyst for my growth from an aspiring teenager to a well-rounded individual with unparalleled educational and life experiences.” As part of the profoundly transformative effect the scholarship has had on her, Sara felt that the challenges she overcame would not have been possible in the absence of support and assistance from the Daughters for Life Foundation in collaboration with McMaster University. She expressed her gratitude as a recipient of the scholarship, citing it as an honour to have been one of the chosen few from the 2018 cycle of the flagship program. 

Her greatest word of advice to future applicants can be distilled to a single, eloquently phrased sentence: “Resilience is paramount.” Sara encouraged future applicants and scholars to persevere with unwavering passion and determination and urged them to “cultivate a concrete plan for your future while embracing the journey that will mould your character and define your aspirations.” As someone who’s gone through the entire process, Sara believes in embracing challenges as stepping stones, constantly striving toward major goals. “Your dedication and the pursuit of your aspirations will inevitably contribute to your growth and success, leaving an indelible mark on your journey.”

The next chapter, as defined by Sara in her own words, is defined by more learning and more growth. She intends to immerse herself in various industrial sectors that are aligned with her studies to gain comprehensive insights into their dynamics. She is also resolute in continuing her studies, seeking to enter graduate school with the aim of refining her expertise and contributing to cutting-edge research. “As I envision my future, I visualize a path where my diverse experiences converge to position me as a knowledgeable professional driving positive change within my chosen field.”


Rasha Alijbour Almajali was our next interviewee. Over the recent spring 2023 convocation period, she graduated from York University’s Commerce Bachelor’s program with a specialization in Human Resources alongside her peers. Having long identified as a people person, Rasha pursued this avenue of study to blend her long-held goal of serving as a force for meaningful change in the lives of others with the technical know-how to do so in our fast-changing world. The moment when this particular field lit up for her can be traced back to her high school years, which marked an internship opportunity that exposed her to multiple workplace settings that were diverse. The key quality each of her placements shared was the importance of effective human resource management and the positive effect HR can have on the lives of staff members. “Practices relating to employee satisfaction, productivity, and organizational culture made me realize the importance of this field in achieving both individual and collective goals.” She said about the topic.

While reflecting on her personal history over the course of her journal with DFL, Rasha had fond memories of her personal growth. “I can see a remarkable transformation in myself,” She shared, “I’ve grown not only academically but also personally, gaining a deeper understanding of the world and the issues that matter.” She felt that, if given the opportunity to go back in time, she would advise herself with the wisdom she’s gathered in the present day. She placed emphasis on the importance of embracing every possible opportunity for learning and growth. “The journey is about more than just education; it’s about making a difference and becoming a well-rounded individual.” She also wished to tell her younger, new-to-university-life self that resilience in the face of challenges is key. She discovered that the path to education and personal empowerment was not always smooth but that difficulties could have a hand in shaping character, making accomplishments even more meaningful once the hurdles are overcome.

In the continued vein of reminiscing, Rasha got into her evolving impressions of York University, the school she attended for the duration of four years. Initially, she found her arrival and navigation process overwhelming, but with the passage of time and a deepening sense of immersion, she began to appreciate the depth of knowledge that faculty members possessed and their dedication to their craft as educators. York University’s diverse range of courses and academic opportunities opened her eyes to what she described as a vast world of learning and discovery. To add to the rich learning environment, an atmosphere of support and collaboration was a quality she praised as well. Rasha’s engagement with fellow students in group projects and events fostered a deep and lasting sense of camaraderie and belonging that meant a lot to her, restructuring her view of the university as a hub of personal growth. 

“Over time, my university experience allowed me to see beyond the initial aesthetics and into the heart of the  institution. I recognized the efforts of the administration to create a conducive learning environment, the passion of the professors to ignite curiosity, and the shared aspirations of the student body to make a positive impact on the world.”

The indelible mark her experience has had on her identity and her aspirations is immeasurable, in Rasha’s own words, and she credits her experience as the catalyst for a journey of self-discovery, intellectual exploration, and forging meaningful connections. 

On the subject of DFL itself, Rasha expressed her gratitude for the foundation’s acknowledgement and the vital role they played in her journey. Beyond the financial component, the scholarship instilled a deep sense of purpose and personal responsibility for Rasha, connecting her with a community of like-minded scholars who share in the same commitment to positive change and empowerment of local communities. “This sense of belonging gave me the confidence to strive for excellence, not only for my own benefit but also to honor the trust and investment that DFL placed in me.” She said. At the close of her studies, she still feels the profound impact DFL’s scholarship has in her personal life. She felt that the scholarship has ignited a passion for giving back and promoting education and empowerment, inspiring her to contribute to causes that align with DFL’s mission. The irreplaceable values instilled by her connection with DFL–of perseverance, resilience and the pursuit of excellence–will continue to guide her journey into her career. “The DFL scholarship has empowered me to break down barriers, challenge stereotypes, and make a meaningful impact in my community and beyond.”

In a natural, linear progression, Rasha’s next chapter is defined by more personal growth and applying herself to make a positive impact in the lives of others. She did not share any fixed plans but envisioned herself continually incorporating learning and evolution into her life. She aims to explore different opportunities that align with her interests and values, develop new skills, broaden her perspectives, and cultivate meaningful relationships. Ultimately, she hopes to find avenues where she can give back to the community and make a difference while embracing the unpredictable journey that life presents.


Finally, Yousra Benradi was our final featured graduate of 2023, graduating with an undergraduate degree in Business Administration from Brock University earlier this year, taking one step closer to her childhood dream of becoming a businesswoman. Reinvention and courage defined her academic life at Brock, as Yousra was not always a student of Business. She started her journey as a Biomedical Science student, which is commonplace for many young students hailing from the Middle East and North Africa. 

As a Moroccan student, she was encouraged by her family to pursue the STEM field alongside many of her peers, thanks to its plentiful opportunities for growth and professional development. However, Yousra’s heart was set on business, and she managed to gather the courage to change her program to Business Administration after receiving encouragement both from DFL’s Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, the whole team supporting DFL scholars and the mentorship of Mr. Marshall Noecker, an American investor and a major contributor to DFL. Dr. Jack Lightstone, former president of Brock University, also served as a pillar of support for Yousra, making himself available to answer questions whenever possible.

Despite Yousra’s lack of prior experience in areas relating to her new field of study, she triumphed over the challenge by seizing the title of Valedictorian in her first year of the program, which laid the groundwork for future accolades. Currently, Yousra is working in the city of Montreal with plans to relocate to Toronto, Ontario, in the fall of 2023 in acceptance of a new job offer. We are very proud of her story of growth and that DFL played a role in her journey!

With all of our graduates this year and every year, we are filled with a renewed sense of inspiration. They embody everything the Daughters for Life Foundation stands for, as well as the initial hopes held by our founder Dr. Abuelaish when he began the organization over a decade ago. We can’t wait to see where each of our graduates goes over the course of their blossoming careers.