2024 Salutatorian - Kazi Tejwar

Majors: Political Science and Government; Sociology  Minor: Legal Studies 


Kazi Tejwar
Kazi Tejwar

Majors: Political Science and Government; Sociology  Minor: Legal Studies 

Please share a little about your background — what’s your story?   

I was born and raised in Flatbush, Brooklyn, and I’m a proud son of two Bengali immigrants. My story always starts with my parents. They’ve sacrificed their entire lives to come to America to give their three children the best possible lives they can lead. I will never forget their sacrifice. 
Growing up, I’ve seen the devastating effects our economic and political systems have had on New York’s Bengali community, as it related to my father’s 30-year work in organizing in the community and working towards fairer representation. I was always inspired by it, and I think it’s part of what got me involved with public service because of the amount of inequality that exists against marginalized and disadvantaged communities across the country. 

I came into City College during the pandemic, at a time where I wasn’t too sure about my life or what I wanted to do. I ended up finding myself through the opportunities the school has provided. I’ve been fortunate enough to have served at the top of student leadership at CCNY and in CUNY, interned and organized with NYPIRG on campus, organized with Amnesty International USA for over a year, and interned for House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries at his district office and Congressman Adriano Espaillat on capitol hill in DC. 

Why did you choose CCNY? What brought you to CPS? 

In honesty, it was the affordability. I came to CCNY on the Excelsior Scholarship, a statewide program that provides students coming from families making less than $150,000 with free tuition at any public institution in New York. For me, that institution was CCNY. 

When I came into CCNY, I thought that CPS would be a great place for me because of the idea that was forming of what I wanted to do in public service. I was amazed with the number of opportunities that existed through fellowships, career mentor support, and of course, the legendary team at the Office of Student Success. Looking back on it now, I made the right decision, and it led me to where I am now. 

What is your passion or purpose behind your studies at CCNY? 
I was originally an undeclared major in my freshman year, then I ended up taking Political Science and Sociology as my majors because my passions of tackling inequality aligned with those fields of study. Attending office hours through instructors, like Karen Struening and Gwendolyn Dordick, built confidence over time and it piqued my interest enough to take these subjects as my majors. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot from instructors from a wide range of courses, and I’ve grown in my thinking because of the education here. I now think more clearly about policy, theory, and the future of how I can use that in the real-world. It’s cool stuff. I try to use my studies to match my values as a person: To help find solutions to problems and seek answers that can sometimes be uncomfortable to know. Doing things that are uncomfortable leads to the best outcomes. 
Where are you at in your career? How has it unfolded? And how has the Colin Powell School helped you along the way? 
Recently, I got accepted into a congressional fellowship in the summer through the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), and I’m in the process of applying for congressional internships. Getting to this point was a crazy ride. 
I came into my freshman year without any sense of direction, and my Political Science 101 course with Karen Struening was helpful. During office hours, she connected me with NYPIRG and I landed my first internship there. I started getting involved in the Undergraduate Student Government (USG), first as a Senator then eventually as Vice President of Campus Affairs, and I received a lot of support from President Boudreau, Dean Rich, and a lot of the Colin Powell School administration on initiatives to better student engagement and well-being. Their support allowed me to trust my abilities in leadership. 
My first fellowship with the school was in freshman year for the Democracy Corps Fellowship, where I landed an internship with the Mayor’s Public Engagement Unit during that year’s primary election. In my junior year, I became a Colin Powell Fellow in Leadership and Public Service and a Ropes & Gray Scholar through the Honors Program in Legal Studies. I have the world to thank for Debbie Cheng and Jennifer Light for the opportunities provided through these programs. Through the Colin Powell Fellowship, I’ve been able to pursue internships with Hakeem Jeffries and Adriano Espaillat. And I started organizing with Amnesty International USA when I approached a guest speaker from one of our seminars because I found their work to be interesting — crazy the doors that open out of nowhere! In the Honors Program in Legal Studies, I receive nonstop support: it provided free LSAT prep when it’s very expensive, and I’m grateful that Jen Light matched me with the Ropes & Gray legal firm. It allowed me to connect with top antitrust legal firms, and I received mentorship through a former Department of Justice antitrust official when I was in DC through that firm. It’s people like Jen and Debbie that make stories like mine possible. 
What are your plans post graduation? 
I’m planning to take some time off before going to law school. I want to continue working in service and get more real-world experience before I take that next leap in my academic career. I will most likely be in DC again this summer through that congressional fellowship I mentioned, and afterwards I might work on Capitol Hill or for campaigns and causes that deal with tackling inequality and providing equity for disadvantaged communities. 
Long-term, I see myself advocating for equity and fairness through antitrust law. Many disadvantaged communities are politically and economically vulnerable, and the way opportunities are structured is a testament to that. Through antitrust law, there could be more opportunities for people to move up the social ladder. And I’ve been fascinated by the subject. I want to give back to the communities that brought me up and lift those same boats. There are other longer-term ideas I have of doing, but a wise man once told me: “God laughs at the plans you say out loud.” So y’all are going to have to see what happens! 
Life does have its turns, so let’s see what ends up happening. I’m still very optimistic. 
What is your biggest accomplishment from your time at CCNY? 
I would say my biggest accomplishment from my time in CCNY would be launching and delivering on the John Lewis Initiative to open campus up as an early voting site. Strengthening democracy and civic engagement are causes that I am very passionate about, and after attacks on voting rights, I thought it was important to do something. Harlem also has some of the lowest voter turnout rates in the city. That’s why when I was Vice President of Campus Affairs in USG, I decided to push for CCNY to be an early voting site. 
I am always grateful for President Boudreau’s support when we were working on this. It showed that students, faculty, and administration could work together on any issue — big and small. Working with the Board of Elections (BOE), the administration, and student organizations allowed us to deliver. Together, we expanded voting access in Harlem. 
I still thought that there was more work to do. A year later, I worked to revive the Democracy Corps Fellowship at the Colin Powell School. I was previously a part of the original cohort, but the program was later discontinued because of lack of funding and partnerships. I am grateful for the support by Dean Rich and Debbie Cheng on this. Together, we formed a new relationship between the school and the City’s Civic Engagement Commission (CEC) that provided internships for 26 students at the CEC. We boosted civic engagement, put money into student’s pockets, and set an example for future work to come. We should always work to increase participation in democracy. 

Do you have any advice you could give to current or future students? 

Show up, do the work, and never give up. It’s important for all of us to follow our passions, no matter what they may be, so always try to take advantage of the opportunities given to you to go on the route you want to be on. Be prepared to take risks and chances, and though some things might not go according to plan, you come back from those situations stronger and more resilient with better opportunities waiting for you. We're always going to have the moments where we feel defeated, but what matters most out of anything is how we carry ourselves up, grow into better people, and learn how we can be the best version of ourselves. Don’t be afraid to fail. During my time here my fail to success ratio was 6:1, and the best thing I can say to y’all is to trust the process and keep the faith. Things will work out. 

You can be who you want to be right now, and you can start from the simplest things. Go start a conversation with someone about the amazing ideas you have. Go to the office hours for classes that interest you and find ways to get involved in that interest. Go talk to someone from the Office of Student Success about your career goals and seek help. Go to Jennifer Lutton about scholarships outside the school that could be life changing. Don’t be afraid to step into the fire and always know your worth as a person. You can do it! 

How would you describe CPS in three words? 

Strong, humble, and resilient. Those three words represent the values of this school — from students to faculty — and it perfectly represents the silver lining in all our stories. If you talk to anyone in the Colin Powell community, you will hear stories that inspire you. We are a community of humble beginnings, and the growth you see from these beginnings speaks for itself. There’s nothing more beautiful than it. Each one of us has struggled in the past, and we have all come back stronger in the end. We use our experiences to channel the value of being my brother's keeper to look out for one another, and that’s something you can’t find anywhere else. 

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