Think about where you were exactly two years ago and what you were doing.
Then consider Sharif Jafari's story.
In August of 2021 he was in his home country of Afghanistan. The United States military was suddenly withdrawing, leaving the country in chaos. People were flocking to the airport, surrounding U.S. military planes in an attempt to get on them.
Jafari's older brother saw what was happening and decided it was time for the family to leave the country, but there was danger everywhere. "Everyone was afraid of the Taliban. Everyone was trying to get out of Afghanistan. It took us 3 or 4 hours to walk a mile to the airport."
When they arrived at the airport, it was filled with people trying to leave their crumbling country. Several hours later, on August 26, the Jafari's boarded a flight to Kuwait and never looked back. They proceeded to Germany, and then to the United States. After a couple of months in a refugee camp, Jafari arrived in Syracuse with his two brothers and one sister.
Jafari quickly found a home at the North Side Learning Center where he worked to learn the English language. While studying he realized his outstanding math skills could help others, so he became an algebra tutor. Mark Cass, Executive Director of the North Side Learning Center, had told Jafari that Onondaga Community College and its Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) might be a good fit for him. So after graduating from Corcoran High School with honors in June 2023, Jafari came to campus and decided to take part in the EOP Residential Pre-freshman Summer Institute. Over the course of 5-and-a-half weeks students live on campus, take college classes, eat their meals in the cafeteria, and get a taste of what college life is like.
"The EOP Pre-Freshman Institute is an excellent way for incoming college students to get a sense of the differences between high school and college," said EOP Director Denise Valdes. "Our students take two classes along with other programming that has been designed especially for them. It provides students with a preview into what college will be like for them in the fall, and gives them the opportunity to create a community with other EOP incoming freshmen."
"When I came here I didn't think I would have fun. Everybody was quiet. But after 2 or 3 days we all became friendly like a family," said Jafari. "Life in high school and life in college are very different. I didn't have homework in high school but I did a lot outside of class here."
Next week at age 19, Jafari will begin his first full semester at OCC. He earned 6 college credits during the summer and has begun working toward his goal of becoming a civil engineer. He's also found a place on campus he can call home. "Everyone in the EOP office is really helpful. When I started coming here I didn't know anything about financial aid or the Say Yes Scholarship. They helped me here with everything. If I have a question, I go to EOP. There are so many people here who support us."