Faculty, friends and family gathered from far and wide to attend SUNY Oneonta’s commencement ceremonies this weekend, but the Qamar family had them all beat after traveling halfway around the world to watch their son graduate.
Waqas Qamar Warraich, who was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, was one of more than 1,513 SUNY Oneonta students that graduated from the State University College at Oneonta on Saturday. Waqas’ major was physics, with a minor in mathematics and a concentration in engineering.
Cheering him on from the audience were his mother, Asifa Samina, and father, Qamar Javeed, a long-time manager of a brick and clay factory in Saudi Arabia. Javeed said it took more than 13 hours to travel to Oneonta for the ceremony.
But this isn’t the first time the Qamar family has made the trip. Also in the audience were Waqas’ three tight-knit siblings, Zubaida, 27, Zishan, 25, and Ayesha, 24, who all previously graduated from the college.
The Qamar family was present at each of the children’s SUNY Oneonta graduation ceremonies, Waqas said. It has always been Javeed’s dream for his children to attend a college in the United States, which is viewed in Saudi Arabia — and worldwide — as the best place to go for a college education, he said.
When the two oldest siblings, Zubaida and Zishan, began to look at colleges, they had all of their siblings in mind, Waqas said. They were familiar with New York because they had visited before and have an uncle who lives in Long Island. It was up to Zubaida to find a college that would offer majors that each of the younger siblings would be interested in someday.
Zubaida and Zishan came to SUNY Oneonta in 2006. One year later, Ayesha made the trip to America to attend the school. Each of them graduated with honors.
Last but not least, Waqas joined his siblings as a freshman at SUNY Oneonta in 2010. Although he missed his orientation date, he had three “built-in orientation leaders who helped show him everything he needed to know about the country and the school,” he said. For the majority of their time at SUNY Oneonta, the siblings lived together in an apartment in downtown Oneonta.
“We are very close,” Waqas said. “I met many people here who said they fight with their siblings and parents, but I love mine. I think Saudi Arabia is a bit more family-oriented.”
In Oneonta, Waqas saw snow for the first time, he said. The weather was difficult to get used to, as Saudi Arabia has much higher temperatures year-round. But the biggest adjustment was being away from his parents and getting used to the food.
“I lost 40 pounds my first year,” Waqas said. “The food here is very different than in Saudi Arabia. But it grew on me. Now my favorite restaurant here is Ruffino’s.”
While in Oneonta, Waqas used Skype and other apps to text or call his parents, he said. Even though he was lucky enough to have his older siblings with him for his first year, he still missed home.
“I had to laugh to myself when other people would talk about being homesick,” Waqas said.
Waqas was very involved in extracurricular activities during his time at SUNY Oneonta, he said. He worked at Mills Dining Hall, was a mentor through the school’s African American, Asian, Latino, Native American and Multiracial program, was the treasurer of the school’s Muslim Student Association, secretary of the Physics and Astronomy club, a member of several honor societies, took karate classes and was a peer mentor for international students at the school’s Office of International Education.
Sylvia R. Carey-Butler, a 1980 alumna of SUNY Oneonta, addressed graduates after being presented with an honorary doctorate at one of Saturday’s graduation ceremonies in the Alumni Field House.
“Be humble,” Carey-Butler told the audience, which included the Qamar family, “be open to diverse perspectives. And blossom where you are planted.”
Waqas’ mother said her children are a good example of this ideal, as they all flourished and did well in a different country, far from home.
“I’m so happy and excited,” Asifa Samina said. “And so proud. They are like a bouquet of flowers, all different but all special.”
Waqas said he and his family will return to Saudi Arabia on Friday for the summer. His sisters both earned their master’s degrees from American colleges and his brother is working for his father. Waqas said he will look for a job as a mechanical engineer and would love to settle down in America someday.
Zubaida said Saturday that she feels happy that all of her siblings followed her to Oneonta and had equally enjoyable experiences there. It was a good choice, Waqas said.
“I have loved everything about SUNY Oneonta,” Waqas said. “Everyone is really nice, friendly and open. I’ve enjoyed the small campus and getting to know so many people. I’ve made a lot of connections here and I will miss it.”