Mohamed Abdelghany saw sports as his way to a college scholarship; but when injuries sidelined him in his junior and senior years of high school, he needed another way.
It came from somewhere he never planned to be in the first place: Passaic County Community College in New Jersey.
Abdelghany spent the first half of his life in the public schools of Queens, New York — “a real urban jungle.” He then moved to New Jersey, where he enrolled in Clifton High School, a much more rural and quiet setting.
“I wasn’t used to having to drive everywhere,” he said. “I missed having everything I wanted to do within walking distance.
“It felt like it wasn’t home. I didn’t feel comfortable there. So in high school, I wasn’t able to focus.”
Playing sports helped. He was on the swim, track and football teams and was doing well — his talents were recognized. Trouble started when he tore his ACL doing the long jump his junior year. Then, he broke his leg at football practice his senior year.
He’d lost his opportunity to play, and his chance to compete for a sports scholarship was gone.
“When I first got injured, my first questions were, ‘Will I walk again? Did I let my teammates down?’ ” he said. “Then, ‘How will I ever pay for college?’ “
Abdelghany was accepted to Rutgers University, but they offered no financial aid package. He was left with a tough decision but ultimately enrolled at Passaic County Community College.
He wasn’t expecting a challenge — he’d been a solid B student in high school and thought of community college as 13th and 14th grades. He was wrong.
His first test came the very first week of classes as he learned how to manage his time.
“I maintained a 3.9 GPA throughout college — got A’s in all my courses, but they didn’t come easily,” he said. “I was really pushed outside my comfort zone.”
Abdelghany was invited to join Phi Theta Kappa in the spring semester of his freshman year. He didn’t want to pay the $65 membership fee; he didn’t have time for extracurricular activities. He signed up anyway, but he wasn’t very active.
Then, a surprise: the Vice President of Student Affairs wanted to nominate him for the All-USA Community College Academic Team. He would be one of two students representing his college.
He applied to win, putting his heart into the application essays. He was named to the New Jersey All-State Academic Team, and he earned a Coca-Cola Community College Academic Team Silver Scholarship.
The good news kept coming. He was invited to be the commencement speaker at graduation. He worked as a research assistant at the Bronx Zoo in New York. And he was inspired to do even more, working as the Director of Ramadan Operations at the Islamic Center of Passaic County and volunteering on local election campaigns.
“Boy, if Phi Theta Kappa didn’t pay off,” he said. “And it was all because I took that initial footstep and invested $65.”
Today, Abdelghany is at Rutgers on a full ride scholarship. He’s on the Debate Team, he’s part of the Honors Living-Learning Community and he’s a Braven Fellow.
He’s a public administration major with a concentration on public policy. He plans on pursuing a juris doctorate and running for elected office.
“In my profession, I’ll be creating public service leaders,” he said. “I want to do something that will bring about more change.”
Abdelghany keeps coming back to the investment he made in Phi Theta Kappa. He has taken advantage of every opportunity that has come his way, and now the thing he’s most proud of is that his parents will never have to pay for him to go to college.
“Not everyone is going to have the same experiences that I’ve had, but everyone is given the same opportunities,” he said. “It’s up to you to make the most of it.”