Fairfax student wins Gates scholarship

A Fairfax County senior is among a select group of students to receive a scholarship from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that will fully cover college tuition.

Maryam Mustafa, a Falls Church High School senior, is one of 1,000 U.S. recipients of a Gates Millennium scholarship. The program, created in 1999 with a $1 billion grant from Gates, provides students with tuition through college graduation and beyond. Students can use the scholarship toward a master’s degree and even a doctorate in such fields as computer science, education, engineering, mathematics and public health.

Mustafa maintains a 4.1 grade-point average and takes honors and Advanced Placement classes. She’s the editor-in-chief of the Falls Church yearbook and has played for the school’s soccer and volleyball teams. She also helped organize a reading buddy program that couples Falls Church students with youngsters at Graham Road Elementary. A Pakistani-American, Mustafa also volunteers at her local mosque.

Mustafa plans to attend either George Washington University or George Mason University to study international relations. She has been fascinated with world cultures and languages since her first year taking Spanish in middle school.

“My teacher would write the conjugations of the word ‘believe’ on the whiteboard, and I would think to myself how around the world there are so many ways to say these inspiring things,” Mustafa said in a written statement.

While keeping up with academics and extracurricular activities, Mustafa also helped take care of her ailing father, who had a rare form of brain cancer. During high school, Mustafa took her father to medical appointments and guided him through the last days of his life.

“I had to become mature beyond my years, and I do not regret this transformation, as I believe that maintaining strength during a fragile moment in life will be a weapon against all future obstacles,” Mustafa said.

Mustafa said that such a trying experience will help her in future endeavors in the international community.

“I have developed a sense of nurturing and I hope to use this as an international lawyer who will fight for human rights,” Mustafa said. “As an international journalist as well, I will help people in third world countries who are undergoing difficulties within their families.”

The Gates Millennium scholars program has helped more than 10,000 students complete college, and from 2000 to 2012 the program has awarded nearly $764 million in tuition.

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
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