Congratulations to Sara Jane Ahmed '12, who just received one of this year's Climate Breakthrough Awards! #Kn...
San Francisco, California
Major in Creative Writing, Minors in Journalism and Film
What have you been doing since graduating from Knox? What do you do professionally?
Personally, I relocated to San Francisco from Chicago in 2009 after losing my compliance coordinator gig due to the Great Recession and housing market crash. I found my life partner Melody out here and we've been together for over 10 years now. We became registered domestic partners last September! We moved a block from Ocean Beach and two blocks from Golden Gate Park nine years ago, but the consistent fog here has not made living by the beach any less awesome.
How did you end up working in this field? Did you anticipate this when studying at Knox?
I touched a bit on this already, but my experience in mental health led me to the justice-involved population at San Quentin. As a mental health counselor for youth, I gained a lot of empathy for people doing the best that they could, trying to move beyond their traumas and often violence inflicted upon them growing up. When they turned 18, the revolving door to juvenile hall closed, and suddenly they received large sentences for their actions that, prior to their 18th birthday, sent them to juvie for weeks or months or a year or two at a time—not five to 10 years as an adult.
I did not anticipate any of this in studying creative writing. While studying journalism, I gained a passion for seeking out and sharing stories not often told. Perhaps that passion led me down this path.
Describe your acting experience at Knox.
My acting became a tremendous asset for my current role, actually. I learned how to embody someone I felt I could not be, rather someone I did not know how to be.
Acting for [Smith V. Brand Distinguished Chair in Theatre] Liz [Metz] in Grapes of Wrath and As You Like It gave me a feel for acting in a professional environment. She challenged me to explore places I did not think I could go. Though I wanted to play Al Joad, Noah Joad forced me outside my comfort zone leading me to discover the complexity of a character that, at the outset, I thought was very simple. Noah taught me empathy for people I didn't understand. As You Like It was fun because we had a concert every rehearsal, every performance, courtesy of the newly formed band The Hoot Hoots, and when I took the stage, I acted as if I was actually—how shall we say?—actually attending a concert and all the fun that comes with that.
Two plays in Studio Theatre, which my good friend Chris Storey directed, cast me as characters with villainous tendencies. I used to watch professional wrestling in college and loved the heels (bad guys) and always wanted to play one. Chris gave me a lot of freedom to explore myself inside these characters and ultimately release some very difficult feelings and emotions through the art of acting.
Why is Knox important to you?
My writing led me to Knox, and so many great professors helped me gain focus in my writing. I had much to learn! They were empathetic with their criticism and encouraging as my written voice developed. The writing workshops were my favorite classes.
Because Knox students came from all over the world, I learned about others’ lives and stories. I came to Knox thinking I grew up with a unique story to tell from the south suburbs of Chicago, but I heard so many other stories that left me in awe. It helped me gain perspective on my life and better understand my privileged place in this world.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
As a fanboy of his Comedy Central show The Colbert Report, I felt so lucky to have Stephen Colbert speak at my commencement. He peppered us with wisdom and satire, reminiscent of his ultra-conservative personality on the show, but he also spoke about the meaning of saying yes to things.
“Now will saying ‘yes’ get you in trouble at times? Will saying ‘yes’ lead you to do some foolish things? Yes, it will. But don't be afraid to be a fool. Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don't learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying ‘yes’ begins things. Saying ‘yes’ is how things grow. Saying ‘yes’ leads to knowledge. ‘Yes’ is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say ‘yes.’”
Leaving Knox after four years was scary, but capping my time there with these words gave me the confidence to plow forward anyway. I still ponder having the strength to say yes when making tough life decisions today.