Muslimah Graduates from Harvard Aged 20*
By Nadine Osman
A Nigerian American woman has made headlines around the world after graduating from Harvard with a neurobiology degree aged just 20. Saheela Ibraheem from New Jersey was accepted to Harvard and thirteen other universities at the tender age of 15.
After skipping the sixth and ninth grades, Ibraheem received a near-perfect score on the SAT and was also accepted to MIT, Princeton and Columbia before settling on Harvard after falling in love with the campus.
Ibraheem has long been in the spotlight for her academic achievements. At 16, she was named to a list of “The World’s 50 Smartest Teenagers,” which led her to be invited to the White House in early March, where she was introduced to the President and first lady at a reception to kick off Black History Month.
“She’s like the State Department and the National Institutes of Health all rolled into one,” Obama said during a short speech.
“Young people like this inspire our future.”
Ibraheem became interested in neurobiology in high school when she picked up a copy of “Gray’s Anatomy” at the school library.
Ibraheem’s parents are both numerically inclined. Her father is a quantitative analyst for a New York bank, and her mother is an accountant. She has three younger brothers, two of whom are in their first years at Yale University and Dartmouth College.
Being younger than her Harvard classmates didn’t prove too difficult. Ibraheem recalled that one first meeting with a classmate devolved into an argument about how old she really was. Other than that, she said that being too young to buy some cold medicines or to see R-rated movies were the most significant obstacles.
Ibraheem has been a member of the Harvard Islamic Society, the Science Club for Girls, which provides after-school mentoring, and, Dreamporte, which uses 3-D technology to teach geography and world culture to foster children.
When asked what advice she had for incoming students, Ibraheem said that they shouldn’t shy away from challenging classes, but that they also shouldn’t sacrifice sleep and free time just to study endlessly.
“There are so many new people. Meet as many as you can. Maybe try out extra curricula’s you didn’t [try] before,” Ibraheem said.
Ibraheem said her Harvard experience transformed her from a shy person to someone comfortable meeting people, talking with them, and listening to them.
“[It was] definitely enlightening, transformative, unique,” she said.