Zaina Zayyad, a junior at Aqsa School in Bridgeview, Illinois, received a $4,000 scholarship in a statewide contest for her essay on a "Lincolnland Legend."
Each student in the AP Writing class wrote about a person who they felt has made a difference in society and is a role model for the youth. Zayyad’s essay about CAIR Chicago’s Executive Director, Ahmed Rehab, was nominated as the best from her congressional district.
"This is such an outstanding achievement," said Khalida Baste, principal of Aqsa School. "Ahmed Rehab, a Muslim, is being recognized as someone who has made significant contributions to society and who serves as an inspirational figure for ALL youth in Illinois, not just the Muslim community."
Excerpts from the winning essay:
"I waited with high hopes for an articulate speech. What I heard was not merely a speech. It was pure beauty, justice, and truth.
"Within minutes, my heart had melted and tears were streaming down my face. Miraculously though, Mr. Rehab’s words were not the only sound in my ears. I did not hear voices; a hush had overcome the crowd. The incessantly chattering crowd was now speechless; the squeals of children were now obsolete. All I heard were the sniffles of old women and young women, grandfathers and fathers, children and their parents. I turned to see the tear streaked face of my mother. My sister who never allowed herself to be moved was now struggling to keep her unmistakable tears in check. Not a dry eye remained in the crowd. When Mr. Rehab ended his speech, a cheer erupted that originated from the very souls of all those present. It could have pierced the heavens; it could have reached neighboring states. A shiver went down my spine and goose bumps covered my arms. I was in the presence of a hero.
"I remembered walking into CAIR-organized Muslim Youth Leadership Symposium as an insignificant sophomore and walking out with a plan to become the first woman, first Muslim, and first Arab president of the United States of America. I remembered listening to Mr. Rehab explain how we must work from step one to step two, then from step two, three, and then four; how we must not allow ourselves to start at zero every time. I remembered how I felt he was speaking to me personally when he said that his generation was working for us to carry the baton after each relay; that we would stand, and teach, and make a change; how he says that I am as American as anyone else."