Strong Women Paved the Way to Graduation for KPU Student Rimi Afroze

She spoke at convocation as a mother, graduate, immigrant, and mature student


For recent KPU graduate Rimi Afroze, taking part in spring convocation signified “a triumph for many girls and women who still think that they are lesser than men.”

In her home country, which she chose to leave unnamed, Afroze faced ostracism and misogyny as she pursued her education. She recalls being escorted to school every day by her mother, who carried a bottle of pepper spray and a pocket knife in her purse for protection.

In many ways, Afroze’s educational journey is defined by these acts of maternal love and sacrifice. Her biological mother was ill when she gave birth to her, so her mother’s best friend promised to care for her daughter. When she eventually recovered, Afroze was left with two mother figures in her life. Now she thanks them for helping her to get where she is today.

Afroze graduated with honours from National University in 1997 as the top student in her country. Her family immigrated to Canada soon after due to harassment and the desire to make a better life for themselves. Despite this, Afroze is steadfast in her belief that the fight for equality is not against a specific country or religion, but ignorance bred by society as a whole.

“It is the mind of the people that needs to be cleared up,” says Afroze. “You can’t sustain a civilization if you don’t let women lead, if you don’t let women be educated.”  

During her second year of medical school at the University of Pittsburgh, Afroze became pregnant and unexpectedly gave birth three months before her due date. Her premature daughter underwent four surgeries to repair her heart and intestines. Doctors warned Afroze that, even if she survived, there was a 90 per cent chance that she would suffer from a mental or physical disability.

With that in mind, Afroze voluntarily withdrew from medical school and used her education in the health sciences to care for her daughter. Today, she’s a “perfectly beautiful, brilliant 12 year-old who raises money for BC Children’s Hospital every year,” according to her mother.

It would take Afroze 10 years to return to school.

I was afraid of going back to an undergraduate classroom,” she says. In particular, she feared sitting with students who were fresh out high school while she was in her mid-30s.

Still, she enrolled and remained a diligent student in the face of adversity. When other students made her feel insecure about her age, she turned to a professor at KPU who also earned her degree later in her life: Dr. Karen Davison.

With Davison as her mentor, Afroze worked as a research coordinator in the department of biology. She also started the health sciences club which, with 170 members, is currently one of the largest clubs on campus.

This spring, she became the first student to graduate with a Bachelor of Health Sciences degree from KPU. She hopes to complete a PhD in epidemiology or infectious disease, with the goal of one day working with underprivileged women and children around the world.

“You have to be kind,” she says. “You have to accept people [for whoever they are]. You have to forget about being so greedy and clinging to your own needs and your own selfishness. This is the only way you can truly be successful and be truly proud of your accomplishments.”


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