Sohaib Hassan has dreamed of becoming a scientist since doctors diagnosed him with muscular dystrophy at age 10.
But he feared his physical limitations would prevent him from keeping up with his peers in the lab, making it impossible to run experiments and move the needle forward on finding a cure for the disease.
This weekend Hassan not only earned his degree in genetics from the School of Arts and Sciences, he was inducted into the university’s prestigious Matthew Leydt Society along with 216 of his peers who ranked in the top 2 percent of Rutgers University-New Brunswick‘s and Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences’ graduating Class of 2023.
“When I found out, I was amazed that I was chosen and just really thankful,” said the Edison resident and Goldwater scholar who emigrated with his family from Pakistan as a 6-year-old and will be studying for his doctoral degree in biomedical informatics at Stanford University starting in August. “When I first came to Rutgers, I never thought I’d be in this position, but looking back at the hardships I’ve been through, I’m proud I’ve been able to make it here.”
Hassan and his fellow inductees were welcomed into the society during a dinner Friday on the grounds of the home of Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway, who chatted with the students and their guests and posed for photos. During his remarks to celebrate the occasion, Holloway congratulated the group on their collective academic achievement.
“Each of you has been dedicated to reaching the highest standards of excellence in your coursework throughout your Rutgers career—and your success reflects well on our reputation as an outstanding public research university,” Holloway said. “Today we express our pride in your achievements, and we are confident that you will bring that same dedication to your endeavors beyond Rutgers, and that you will pursue lives and careers of meaning and purpose.”
Named for the first and only 1774 graduate of Queen’s College, New Brunswick, the Matthew Leydt Society was launched in 2015. Leydt matriculated as a sophomore when instruction began at Queen’s College in 1771, earning a bachelor of arts degree three years later.
At that first commencement in New Brunswick, Leydt delivered orations in Latin, Dutch and English and, after graduation, earned his license to enter the ministry of the Dutch Reformed Church. At Queen’s College, he studied under Frederick Frelinghuysen, the college’s first tutor, and Rev. Jacob Rutsen Hardenbergh, who would later become the college’s first president in 1786. In 1825, Queen’s College was renamed Rutgers College in honor of Col. Henry Rutgers, a trustee and Revolutionary War veteran.
The celebration is an opportunity for those being inducted to enjoy a more intimate gathering with a few close friends and relatives before taking part in the university’s large-scale commencement events.
“I was so surprised when I got the email, but it felt really good because I put a lot of hard work into these last four years,” said Rachael Carrión, of North Brunswick. “There were a lot of obstacles that we came across, but to see that all my hard work is going to be honored in some way is a really nice feeling.”
Before graduating with double undergraduate degrees in human resource management and labor studies and employment relations, Carrión, who starts her career with Johnson & Johnson in July, dined with her parents under the string-lighted tent at Friday’s ceremony as a string quartet played.
“I truly could not have done it without them. Anytime I got a good grade or an internship, they were the first people I called,” she said. “I’m so grateful for all they’ve done for me to help me to get to this point and excited they can share this achievement with me.”
After making his way through the flower-laden buffet, Sean Zujkowski, who earned a degree in visual arts with a concentration in photography from Mason Gross School of the Arts, shared his celebratory meal with his peers. The Manville resident, said he was proud to be among the artists being recognized at the ceremony.
“This is a reminder that we are part of this bigger whole and that as artists we are also academics,” said Zujkowski, who plans to become a high school photography teacher. “Often times artists get slighted. They are not viewed as on par with careers like pre-med.”
This recognition felt like the perfect ending to Stella Campbell’s “tumultuous” undergraduate experience. Campbell, who graduates with a bachelor of science in environmental policy, institutions and behavior from the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, spent the evening with her girlfriend and mother at her side.
“I started at a community college. Then I transferred to another school, but it was not a good fit. I finally ended up at Rutgers and found an incredible community of people,” said Campbell, of Basking Ridge. “I’m really happy I ended up at Rutgers. Being inducted into this society is more than just being in the top 2 percent of my class. It’s about all the things I had to overcome to get here.”