Accomplished student with ‘deep commitment to public service’ among 4,000 expected to graduate from KU on Sunday

photo by: Dylan Lysen

University of Kansas graduating senior Zoya Khan, who is originally from Overland Park, stands in front of the Sabatini Multicultural Resource Center on KU's campus. Khan, who served as the president of the university's Muslim Student Association for two years, said she spent a significant amount of time in the center during her four years at KU.

The end of her time at the University of Kansas has not yet sunk in, said Zoya Khan, an accomplished student from Overland Park who will graduate from KU on Sunday.

“I don’t know if it’s going to hit me while I’m walking down the hill,” she said, referring to the commencement procession from the Campanile to David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. “I think it will be after the fact when I’m not around my friends and not going to class.”

Khan will be one of the nearly 4,000 students to fill the stadium at 10:30 a.m. Sunday to officially graduate from KU during the university’s 147th commencement. Upon graduation, Khan will receive bachelor’s degrees in both political science and global and international studies.

During Khan’s four years in Lawrence, KU twice honored her for her work. In 2018, she won the Rusty Leffel Concerned Student Award, which is given each year to a student who furthers the ideals of higher education, according to KU’s website. This year, she won the Agnes Wright Strickland Award, which honors graduating seniors for academic success and demonstrating leadership in university concerns.

While she was a junior, Khan ran for student body president for the Rise KU coalition, but ultimately lost. After the election, she helped turn the coalition into a student advocacy organization on campus, according to the university.

But Khan said she will mostly remember her time spent with the Muslim Student Association. She served as the organization’s president for two years and helped reestablish relationships with other multicultural organizations on campus. She called the organization her “biggest passion.”

“That’s what kept me going through the difficulty of classes and extracurriculars, largely because we live in a campus environment where it can be difficult to find a space where you can grow personally and with your peers,” she said. “That’s the space I could really do that.”

Khan said her plans after graduation include attending Brooklyn Law School in New York City, but the college gave her a deferred enrollment, allowing her to take a year off from studying before enrolling in 2020. She doesn’t know yet what she’ll do with that time, she said.

“I think it just gives me a chance to breathe,” she said with a laugh.

Lumen Mulligan, a professor and associate dean for faculty for KU’s School of Law, told the Journal-World he taught Khan in an introductory law class, where he found she is a great student and person.

In a letter of recommendation sent to Brooklyn Law School on Khan’s behalf, Mulligan wrote Khan has a “deep commitment to public service,” noting she worked for the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People while she was a student. But he said what makes Khan special is her experience growing up in Kansas as a Muslim.

“That experience developed tenacity, strength of character, resolve, and an inner moral compass,” Mulligan wrote in the letter. “When she says she is going to fight for the betterment of the underrepresented, you better believe that is gonna happen. And you better get on her train or get out of the way. She is the real deal.”

Mulligan said he wanted Khan to attend KU’s law school, but she has her heart set on moving on to experience a new part of the country. However, Khan said her time in Lawrence will always be a part of who she is.

“I don’t think I’m truly going to ‘leave’ KU, or KU is going to ‘leave’ me,” Khan said. “I think it would be disingenuous for me to say how I’ve grown and changed here is not always going to impact me and move with me wherever I go.”

KU Commencement

When: 10:30 a.m. Sunday

Where: David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium, 1101 Mississippi St.

What to expect: Thousands of graduating students will walk down the hill into the stadium where a two-hour program will culminate with KU Chancellor Douglas Girod conferring degrees.

Weather: The event will continue rain or shine. If severe weather is in the forecast at the time of the event, university officials may postpone the start time to 12:30 p.m. A decision on postponement will be announced by 9 a.m.

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