I hear her say in a deep loving Arabic voice “Ta’ali ya Dima,” which means, “Dima, come here.” 

I am five years old playing in my grandmother’s home in Amman, Jordan.  Filled with anticipation, I walk towards her not realizing that I am about to receive the most valuable gift. I watch as she turns towards the kitchen table.  She picks up a magazine, carefully rolls it, and then slowly ties it with a red ribbon.  Her eyes are filled with energy as she leans down towards me and whispers in my ear, “Today, we are going to play a new game.  We are celebrating the day you graduate from college.”

I look at her and think, I don’t understand what all of this means. I’ve never heard of a graduation before.

What happens at a graduation?

What do you do with a diploma?

Why is my grandmother so happy?

Years later, I learned the secret behind the graduation game.  My grandmother wanted to give me what many, especially women in our Jordanian Community, were denied…an education.

She was aware of the cultural limitations that I was going to face.  She knew of our community’s expectations for me as an Arab girl, and my traditional role in my family and society. She realized that these powerful forces could stop and discourage me.  But, it was important for her to instill in me the desire to challenge the norm and to take action to grow.

My grandmother passed away when I was nine-years-old, but the belief that she gave me through the graduation game never left me.  I wish I could play this game one more time, and as she leans towards me and hands me the diploma, I want to tell her that her dream became a reality.

The road to achieving the dream that my grandmother gave me was long, winding, and never easy.  But, what I learned along the way is that our most strongly held beliefs shape our reality, no matter how daunting the obstacles in our path.  I believed an education was my reality.  What is yours?

Hear the complete story of this powerful journey and how it applies to us all in the TEDx Talk below. 


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