After 20 years, I pulled into the Western Senior High School grounds, and caught my breath. A flood of high school memories came rushing back to me. I took a moment to look at the old familiar grounds: The large parking lots filled with students’ vehicles (where I never parked because I rode the MTA bus) the fast food restaurant directly across the road where I first experienced cutting class, the auditorium archway where I stood one sunny day in May 1991, waiting to enter with hundreds of other girls in my class, wearing a long white dress for Senior Farewell.
Established in 1844, Western Senior High is the oldest all-girl, public high school in the country. The Doves, as we are called (Our school mascot is that bird that often symbolizes peace.) are trained in tradition. Today’s tradition was Senior Prank Day. Ah, memories.
I entered the main foyer, and walked the large halls to the office. I was a featured guest of the principal here more than a few times during my tenure as a student. Maysa El-Sheikh, president of the Muslim Student Association guided me to the Archives Room. My audience, about 30-50 girls, eagerly awaited to hear all about filmmaking. I was overwhelmed with respect, and honor to be a guest 20 years later to inspire these young women.
Many asked questions about why I became a filmmaker, and how I began making films. I was very impressed by the questions asking about the differences between indie filmmaking and studio films. Yet the most poignant moment was a comment made by a young woman who made it a point to say she was happy to see films like mine being made, she wants to see more films where Muslims are featured in a non-stereotypical way at the heart of good stories. She and her family are immigrants from Nigeria, and she mentioned that back home, they want to see films like mine. I make my films for her and many, many like her all across the globe.
This is one of the main reasons I became a filmmaker: to entertain and inspire. I am glad to have been able to share my latest film project, Chrysalis, and my experiences in the film industry with the young women at Western Senior High School. Perhaps a seed has been planted in the minds of a few of them to go after their creative goals. Ongoing Mission Accomplished.