'How are you going to be at a Christian school?': Omar Afifi's Story

A portrait of a young man with a collared shirt and a beard staring with a slight grin
Omar Afifi '24 reflects on his time at Holy Cross before graduating later this month.

Editor's Note: On May 24, 751 members of the Holy Cross class of 2024 will walk the commencement stage. Each path to the stage is unique. As we celebrate the class, HCM asked several seniors to share their journeys in their own words. Listen and read their uncut narratives — how they got here and what they’re taking with them — as they reflect on the Holy Cross chapter of their life.

Listen to Omar Afifi '24 read his reflection
Audio file

“So, Omar, what school will you be going to next year?,” one of my closest friends from back home asked.

I said, “Holy Cross in Massachusetts.”

“Holy Cross? Bro, you’re Muslim. How are you going to be at a Christian school?” he replied, intensely laughing.

It would be inaccurate to say that this exact thought didn’t cross my mind when I decided to choose Holy Cross for the next four years. I didn’t think that my closest friend would be the first to clown my decision to attend a Jesuit institution, however.

Three students and a professor pose for a photo by the water on Cape Cod.
Omar Afifi and his research partners were part of associate professor of chemistry André Issacs' lab. One summer day in 2021, they ditched the lab for the beach.

It also didn’t help that I completed the entirety of my freshman year virtually from back home in Connecticut. I remember opening the Common Application website and clicking on the “Transfer Applications” tab in the midst of my Zoom Montserrat lecture. Yet, I never actually filled it out. A small part of me urged me to give Holy Cross a second chance. A fair chance.

I arrived on campus the summer before my sophomore year as a mentor for the incoming freshman class for the Passport Program. It was my first time stepping foot on campus. While my role was mentoring incoming freshmen, I genuinely could have used some of that mentoring, too. I began meeting many new people — and forgetting the names of half of them — and forming connections with individuals who seemed to want to help anyway they could. Holy Cross soon became a home for me.

I remember applying to be part of the executive board of HCF1RST, the recognized first-generation college student organization, and attending the first meeting in Hogan not having any idea about what I had just agreed to do. I also remember signing up to volunteer at AVID through Student Programs for Urban Development and giving a presentation about my college application journey to students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds. This individual volunteering opportunity at AVID culminated into kick-starting a full-fledged program, where I was able to invite many students on campus for a “Day in the Life” experience at no cost to them. I, for sure, could not have foreseen the development of this program. I can continue to mention many more experiences.

I am sharing this to emphasize that I am glad that I have decided to explore the unknown. Looking back at that decision, I don’t have any regrets about it. I’ll tell you why: Even though I am a practicing Muslim, come from an immigrant background, and am a first-generation college student, the relationships I have formed with the people here have made me feel like I belong.