Ali Nayyef, a student in the Schar School of Policy and Government’s political science master’s program and an infantryman in the Virginia Army National Guard, is one of 60 recipients of 2018 Pat Tillman Foundation scholarships. The foundation is named for Pat Tillman, an NFL player who lost his life as a U.S. Army Ranger fighting in Afghanistan. The $10,000 award is earmarked for tuition and fees, books, and living expenses.
Scholarship recipients are selected for their strength of character, academic excellence, and potential, according to the foundation website. Award recipients are expected to apply the best lessons they’ve learned in life and the military to positively impact America in the fields of medicine, business, law, science, education, and the arts.
Schar School Dean Mark J. Rozell said Nayyef and Melissa Swensen, a Mason doctor of nursing student who also won a Tillman award, are the kinds of extraordinary students who help make the university special.
“Mason honors those who serve the nation and we are very is proud that our students are recipients of the prestigious Tillman Scholarship,” Rozell said.
Nayyef, who earned his bachelor’s degree at Christopher Newport University, came to the United States in 2010 following the death of his father at the hands of Al Qaeda in their native Iraq. His father had served as an interpreter alongside U.S. military forces in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion of 2003.
“I can apply the lessons I have learned at war and as a refugee, along with my passion for studying international relations, to address many of the security challenges the United States and the world continues to face,” Nayyef said.
Shortly after the family’s arrival in the United States, Nayyef’s sister, who had also worked as an interpreter for U.S. forces, enlisted in the U.S. Army and served three years on active duty. Nayyef followed suit and enlisted in the Virginia Army National Guard following his own graduation from high school in 2014, and continues to serve as an infantryman.
“Every day I get to wake up and live the American dream because of the bravery of the men and women who came before me,” he said. “I intend on honoring them and this country by living up to my full potential and to give back not only as a soldier, but as a scholar.”