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Afghan Student Elected Juniata\'s Student Government President

(Posted September 12, 2005)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Mirroring the election in 2004 of Afghan president Hamid Karzai, Juniata College student Javaid Zeerak, a native of Kabul, Aghanistan, calls his election as president of the college's student government "a confirmation of my idea of the student body as a group trained in a tradition that encourages thinking, free from prejudice and considerations based on color and creed."

Zeerak, who lives with relatives in Woodbridge, Va., first arrived in the United States as a high school exchange student and decided to continue his education in the United States. His immediate family has been living in Peshawar, Pakistan for the past six years, although Zeerak just returned from a trip accompanying his family in Afghanistan to explore a possible move back to Kabul.

"I decided to attend Juniata because it was a small college with a flexible program that had a large number of international students," Zeerak says. "Since coming to Juniata I have been active in many campus clubs and organizations, and through these clubs my working with student government has given me a familiarity with its valuable aspects and some of its drawbacks."

Zeerak, a senior majoring in international politics, decided to run for president to improve communication between the student government and student clubs and to raise the visibility of Juniata's student government to all of its students. "Given my cultural and religious background, my candidacy also was championing the cause of diversity," Zeerak says.

Zeerak's campaign, in which he vowed to reach out to the "silent majority" of the student body, resulted in a resounding victory from the students, silent or otherwise. "It made me feel great about being in a place and in the company of a group of people who are opened-minded and do not judge me on the more visible aspects of my identity and instead responded to my ideas," he explains. "When I shared the news with family back home they were much more excited -- and surprised -- about the prevailing thinking on campus rather than my winning the election."

Zeerak looks at his victory as more than just a vote for diversity. He also feels his campaign issues of better communication and making student government more inclusive for all students resonated with voters. "I felt the issues on which I campaigned were concerns shared by the majority of the student body, and I took my victory as a mandate for acting to effect change," he says.

Although he worried about the reaction students may have had to his candidacy, Zeerak decided to commit wholeheartedly to the campaign. "As any public official will tell you, to decide to run for an office is to open yourself up to a possible barrage of criticism and negative reactions," he says. "But to let fear and worry about negative reactions change a decision to run for an office with the ultimate aim to effect positive change would be worse."

Throughout the coming year, Zeerak hopes that Juniata students will let him know if he is making progress in changing policies at Juniata. He also hopes to raise the profile of the college within the Huntingdon community, if local groups or schools would like him to speak or give a presentation.

Although he is specializing in politics, he's not sure if he will continue his political career after college. "I was hoping to be an instrument for change and to address concerns I shared with the rest of the students," he says. "As long as I see a role for myself in a leadership position where I can do some good, I will not hesitate to run for office."

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.