I lost a friend…

She was a friend, a confidante, an attentive listener, a generous heart abundant in joy and compassion, and more importantly, a true role model — an expert pedagogue and a selfless teacher

This past week has been difficult. I had to come to terms with the death of my English language teacher, Shahla Garayeva. She wasn’t just a teacher to me. She is the reason why I pursued a career in higher education.

I met Shahla in October 2002. I still remember the day when I walked into her small living room where she held tutoring classes for her students. She told me that I was too shy and needed to loosen up a little bit. I got irritated by her directness but knew that she was right. Shahla later got me into a debate club convincing me that I would be able to broaden my worldview and gain confidence. She wanted me to learn how to speak persuasively and communicate more effectively with others.

Shahla did not accept excuses for slacking. She detested students who looked for an easy answer or cheated to make their way through assignments. Being a hard worker herself, Shahla always went an extra mile and got things done. Even in the face of adversity, she would speak the truth, face opposition and stay true to her principles.

Shahla would never want anyone to cry after her. Throughout this week I have had dark moments…I’d suddenly have flashbacks and would burst into tears realizing that I did not get to see her, hold her hand, let her know how much I love her and witness how she would overcome another hurdle that life had presented her. I knew that Shahla would not have approved of me crying. She would want me to take this pain and make something beautiful out of it.

Therefore, I am committing to establishing a scholarship program named after Shahla Garayeva. This summer I will explore available options and will roll out a crowdfunded scholarship program for Azerbaijani girls from underprivileged backgrounds. I will need your support, both emotionally and financially, to make this happen. Shahla touched so many lives, lit a light thirsty for knowledge in so many of her students. Now it is our turn to pay it forward! Through this scholarship Shahla will continue to live and shine light on young minds of Azerbaijan.

PhD Student, Teachers College, Columbia University #highered #access #internationalization #postSoviet l lifelong learner, curious educator, outgoing introvert

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