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Diplomacy Students Take Top Prizes in Essay Competition  

AEK contest 2 320 picMichelle Perez, M.A. '18 and William "Jake" Virgili, M.A. Candidate, entered and won first and second place respectively in the Abdelkader Global Leadership Prize essay competition held by the Abdelkader Education Project (AEP). The prizes they won for first and second place were $1,500 and $1,000. This year's essay competition asked, "Why is the Emir Abd el-Kader important today?"

AEK contest 3 320 picUnion City native, Michelle, specialized in Post-Conflict State Reconstruction and Sustainability and Latin America and Caribbean studies. During her time at Seton Hall, she served as a Fellow at the Permanent Observer Mission to the Holy See to the United Nations. She says what drew her to AEP's essay competition was that it "felt like it was an extension of our School's recent research, and since the research was so inspiring, writing the essay came naturally to me." During her second year of graduate studies, she worked as part of a team to complete research for the Office of South Asia Analysis Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the United States State Department. The research explored solutions for better U.S. engagement in Afghanistan and with the Taliban under the supervision of the School of Diplomacy's Abd el-Kader Fellow and Seton Hall alumnus, Mohamad Mirghahari.

In her essay, she writes that humanity has found great difficulty in identifying the beauty in the differences among us, and instead tends to respond to difference with violence. She writes, "Many of the opportunities for peace were met with differences and disagreements that begin with a faith in a different God." But Emir Abd el-Kader, credited as being one of the most influential military and religious leaders in history, was able to find compassion and empathy with those that he came across, regardless of their faith. As a key figure in the history of diplomacy, Michelle recalls Abd el-Kader's ability to "build bridges with individuals he never met before and perhaps disagreed with," which showed "the power of reaching across cultural barriers in ways that help to create open dialogue, instead of further divide."

Michelle praised the competition and recommends that other students connect with the Abd el-Kader Fellow and participate in the contest as a rewarding learning opportunity. She currently is an audio interpreter/stenographer for Elite Transcripts LLC and serves as both an Election Jury Volunteer for the Colombian Consulate of Newark, N.J. and an alumni board member for Saint Peter's University.

Jake Virgili 320 picHailing from Virginia, Jake Virgili has specific interests in international security. Like Michelle, he was first introduced to the story of Emir Abd el-Kader by Mr. Mirghahari and worked with the team to conduct and present research with the U.S. Department of State. In his essay, he suggests that conflicts have convinced many to believe humanity is a "power-hungry, destructive force, with little regard for those with different beliefs." By highlighting tragic events like the 9/11 attacks, war between Palestine and Israel, and the Libyan Civil War, Jake argues that these collective events generate a negative outlook on the world. However, if we look to el-Kader, we can learn to be more optimistic in times of strife. Jake also writes about how world leaders can learn from el-Kader's eagerness to understand cultures and beliefs that weren't his own. Abd el-Kader "actively sought out those with views different than his own to better understand those he was dealing with." This can be replicated with, for example, the West seeking a better understanding of the Taliban in the Afghanistan.

In his own life, Jake was able to find ways in which he can better himself by following el-Kader's example. He describes the obstacles he has encountered, "molehills compared to what the Emir faced," in searching for jobs and internships. However, instead of feeling discouraged, he recognizes that he should internalize the Emir's sense of perseverance and should constantly be reminded of "the way el-Kader faced his adversity," and choose to "emulate his tenacity." The parallels that that Jake sees between his life and the Emir in their upbringing and education and the lessons that world leaders can learn from him is what fueled his essay. By remaining positive in the face of difficulty, embodying perseverance in moments of struggle, and having a desire of knowledge and understanding, the Emir has made a lasting impression on all that learn about him.

Jake highly encourages students to read Commander of the Faithful: The Life and Times of the Emir Abd el Kader by John Kiser and engage with el-Kader's story through the essay contest. He also recommends that students connect with Mr. Mirghahari to, in Jake's words, be "offered an experience beyond anything you can get in a classroom." After he graduates, he plans on pursuing his Ph.D. in International Studies. To celebrate their outstanding achievement, this year's AEP Forum in Washington, D.C. featured a unique award presentation that recognized the essay winners and honored Abd el-Kader's example.

AEK contest 4 320 picCongratulations to Michelle and Jake on your research success and on applying your experience to earn this prestigious award!

To learn more about the School of Diplomacy's Abd el Kader Fellow and research team, visit here.

Categories: Nation and World

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  • Gwen DeBenedetto
  • (973) 275-2562
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