“Lean in and Don't be Afraid of What Captures Your Imagination”

Advice from Yale Law School grad Shariful Khan (‘19)


Shariful Khan_CPS Alumni Profile_Headshot

Where are you from and what is your background story? Please share your details from the period before you arrived at CCNY.
I'm a proud alum of the New York City public school system. My parents immigrated from Bangladesh to Queens in the 1990s and managed to find a way to create a living for my brothers and myself. Though we grew up in a small, crowded apartment in Jackson Heights, and did not have much to spare, my parents were generous with others and shielded us from the daily financial pressures they faced. I only have the opportunities that I do today because of them.

What brought you to CCNY and to the Colin Powell School?
I chose to attend CUNY for the same reasons most people choose to: it was affordable and close to home. But I chose CCNY specifically because I knew that the school was a special place with a diverse student body, a history of activism and progressive politics, and (this was a real selling point) a pretty cool campus.

What is your passion or purpose behind pursuing what you did at City College?
I studied Political Science and Asian Studies at City College. Asian Studies is easy to explain — after spending years learning a mostly Eurocentric history of the world, I wanted to learn more about the histories of different nations and cultures, especially those relevant to my background as a Bangladeshi-American. I studied Political Science because I am interested in making the world better, and it's difficult to do that without a basic understanding of the politics and systems of our time.

Briefly, how has your career unfolded? How did City College and/or the Colin Powell School help you to get where you are in your career?
After City College, I attended Yale Law School. At Yale, I got to work on economic justice and civil rights issues in a lot of different ways ranging from disability law and veterans' benefits to consumer protection. After I graduated from law school, I won a Skadden Fellowship — a two-year program designed to support young attorneys interested in public interest work — at Public Justice, where I'll work on students' civil rights issues before I clerk for two judges.

There's no way to separate the person I am and the things I care about from the places I've been and the people I've learned from. At City College, I developed the passions that have since been the driving force of my life. I saw in my classmates what economic insecurity can do to families. I developed a firsthand understanding of the power of mobility and opportunity, and how these possibilities are inextricably intertwined with housing, civil rights, and labor. In the morning, I learned from professors how the over-concentration of private power can hurt working families in the morning; and at night, I comforted friends as they struggled with wage theft, former convictions, and shoddy healthcare. 

At CCNY, I got to experience the practical realities of America clash with the lofty ideals of academia. I am thankful for that opportunity. And I am who I am today because of CCNY.

Do you have any significant memories or accomplishments from your career or time at City College / Colin Powell School that you would like to share?
So many. I loved my time in the Skadden Pre-Law Program at CCNY, then run by the wonderful Jennifer Light and Dr. Andrew Rich. I remember debating with friends in our lounge, respectfully challenging each other's ideas, and helping each other grow. I loved the short conversations I had with professors after class, where I would ask them what I thought was a simple question about some philosopher or historical event and see that gleam in their eye that revealed I had just touched upon one of their favorite subjects. And perhaps most of all, I deeply value the time I spent at the NAC Library, eating lunch with my friends, and building the relationships that will carry me forth for the rest of my life.

Do you have any advice you could give to current or future students?
Spend some time at school after your classes end. I know most of us commute and have places to be, jobs to work, and families to care for, but your classmates are brilliant and funny, and it will be the joy of your life to get to know them. 

Do not be afraid to engage with your professors. Looking back, I viewed college as an extension of high school. I should have been more aware of the different levels of respect and expectations professors have for their students. Follow the things that interest you, even if they're not what you thought they'd be when you first arrived at CCNY. For a second early in college, I thought I would pursue a career as a geologist. Rocks still rock, but I was quickly drawn to the classes where we navigated history and questioned the systems and policies around us. Lean in and don't be afraid of what captures your imagination.

What are your future aspirations for your career?
I have not figured everything out yet, and I don't think I ever will. But I would love to continue working for the public interest in some capacity, whether it's through public service or at a nonprofit or in academia, or elsewhere. I know that wherever my career takes me, I will not forget the lessons I learned and the people I met at CCNY.

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