Mahsheed Mahjor '17 brings activism and purpose to life

Mahsheed Mahjor '17 - campus flags

By Emily McGoldrick '17

If you’re looking for someone with a relaxed college life, Mahsheed Mahjor ’17 will be at the bottom of the list. In her time at Muhlenberg College, she balanced a double major, multiple leadership positions on campus, academic conference presentations and the operation of her reading association back home in Kabul, Afghanistan—all while earning a few awards along the way. 

Mahsheed came to Muhlenberg as an international studies major, but as she took women’s and gender studies courses and had conversations with her peers, she found that her interests also extended to the role of women in politics. She self-designed her second major, Women in the Socio-Political World, which built upon her studies in her first major and added a concentration in peace and conflict.

In addition to her courses, Mahsheed conducted independent research and presented her papers at academic conferences, such as the LVAIC Women and Gender Studies Conference hosted by Muhlenberg and the Pennsylvania Political Science Association at Robert Morris University.

“We have this complicated world, and a lot of awful things are happening, and it’s really important to realize that, and not only realize that, but take action...however when we get united and talk and raise awareness about something that is beyond one person’s ability or capacity to even advocate for it...when we get together, great things can happen,” said Mahsheed.

Mahsheed credits her academic growth to an array of courses, which have taught her to be open minded, a critical thinker and a good listener.

“I feel like every single professor that I have taken a course with, they’ve influenced me or inspired me in a different way,” she said.

Mahsheed Mahjor '17 - Wood Dining Commons

The rest of Mahsheed’s schedule was dedicated to an extensive number of student organizations and programs: she served as president of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) and International Student Association (ISA), vice president of Muhlenberg International Relations Council, a member of Cardinal Key Society, a member and mentor of the Emerging Leaders program, tutor for international relations and political science and as a volunteer for America Reads.

These experiences, she said, “Enrich your experience, help you grow and make you feel like you have contributed something back to the campus community that works so hard to give you the things you need as a student.”

Outside of Muhlenberg, Mahsheed ran Book Cottage, a reading group that she founded during her time as an ANNPower (now called HERlead) fellow at Vital Voices, an international non-profit dedicated to empowering women around the world. Mahsheed’s idea to start Book Cottage as a book club that promotes reading culture in Afghanistan has branched out far beyond her original plans.

Members of the group go to schools, read to children and host book readings. They also bring writers to speak about their work and host book exchanges.”

Vital Voices also led Mahsheed to a mentor, Muhlenberg alumna and geopolitical consultant Lauren C. Anderson. When Anderson spoke at Muhlenberg about her experience as a former FBI executive during Mahsheed’s freshman year, they met and discovered that they had both been involved with Vital Voices. They soon formed a friendship and have even written together for Anderson’s blog on the Huffington Post.

It was Anderson who first prompted Mahsheed to apply to be Muhlenberg’s 2017 student Commencement speaker, yet another honor Mahsheed earned.

Mahsheed’s speech, which, on several occasions, elicited thunderous applause from the crowd of graduates, faculty, staff, family and friends, echoed a theme of good citizenship which dominated Commencement weekend events.