WWS Blog

No Limits

Oct 7, 2014
Published by:
Sara Elsayed, MPA '16
Sara Elsayed, MPA '16

I grew up in a small town in North Carolina as a first-generation American. I went to a public high school. My family was supportive and I was motivated. I did well, but I was sheltered. It had never occurred to me to consider a more prestigious or even out-of-state university.  I applied locally and went to a state school. It was a great experience and I received an extraordinary education.  But it was safe--a by-product of my sheltered small town upbringing.

When I heard about the Public Policy and International Affairs Junior Summer Institute, I was immediately interested. It was right up my alley. I was interested in international affairs and wanted a public service career. But, I wasn't sure I wanted to pursue graduate school. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to test the waters of not only graduate school, but graduate school at a top-rate university.

It has been seven years since I attended JSI at Princeton and it remains one of the more formative experiences of my adult life. It taught me that I wanted a graduate education, but only after some real world experience. It solidified my desire to work in the public sector and try to make a difference. But mostly, it gave me the courage to reach for opportunities and experiences I had previously denied myself for fear that they were out of my league.

When I graduated in 2008, I jumped feet first into an overseas position with an international organization...in Baghdad. I spent the next six years working with refugees in Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and elsewhere. I loved my work! But, when it came time to look at more senior positions, I noticed I was lacking a key qualification: a graduate degree. I was ready for more responsibility. I wanted to acquire the tools that would make me a more qualified and competitive candidate.

This time around, when applying to graduate schools, I applied to only the top schools in my area of interest. I immediately thought of Princeton. My work abroad and experience at JSI had empowered me. I would reach as high as possible. I would stretch myself to my limits, and then some. I would not fear failure.  When the acceptance letters came, I had no doubts as to where I would attend.

Leaving the work I so loved was tough, but this last month back at Princeton has been nothing short of phenomenal and I have no regrets. The support provided by the Woodrow Wilson School is unsurpassed. My classmates are incredible. Their commitment and breadth of talent and experience is awe inspiring. The professors are first-rate. The classes are equally interesting, challenging, and enriching. The guest lecturers are top-notch and relevant. I am confident that I will leave with fond memories, lifetime friends, and the necessary tools to be a more efficient and effective public servant.


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