Last Tuesday, Wajahat Ali, the author of Go Back To Where You Came From, took the podium during the Class of 1969 Global Engagement Lecture after the unexpected cancellation of another speaker. The Class of 1969 Global Engagement Lecture’s mission is to shed light on unique world issues and perspectives that might not be addressed at school.
As a passionate advocate of the BIPOC community, Ali shared the story of his upbringing as a first-generation Pakistani-American in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. He shared his journey navigating bigoted and uneducated attitudes during his adolescence, including comments such as, “Why is your skin so brown?” Shanuka Navaratne ‘25, who identifies as BIPOC, said, “His details about parental academic pressure, white validation and cultural ignorance were very relatable.”
Throughout the lecture, students laughed, sat in silence and reflected in response to Ali’s stories. “As soon as Ali walked on to the stage with a smile, I knew the speech was going to be a lot of fun,” said Masha Levina ‘25. Kelsey Li ‘26 said, “He was very effective using his humor to captivate the young students. I appreciate the way he was able to bring up deeper topics without talking down to us.” Dawson Hastings ‘23 added, “I thought the speaker wasn’t scared to shy away from things that make people uncomfortable, and he was able to tell jokes while staying respectful.”
However, Ali’s lighthearted mood soon shifted once he shared his experience as a Muslim American after the effects of September 11, 2001. Tahir Hasanov ‘25 later said, “As a Muslim, I understood how he felt and how he was being discriminated against.” John Yuquilima ‘26 also felt he was “able to relate to the discrimination the speaker experienced.”
Mercersburg’s community had the opportunity to speak to Ali after his lecture, a time during which he shared invaluable advice with students. Dawson Graditor ‘26 said, I learned thatmost people set their goal on mastering one topic, but it is totally reasonable to expand your interest and pursue other categories.” Ali said, “Your life can always improve,” an optimistic parting message to those in the Mercersburg Academy community.