By Emmanuel Freeman
NASHVILLE, TN (TSU News Service) — Christine Khalil is an American success story. A child of Egyptian immigrants, who escaped persecution as Christians from their homeland when she was just 1½ years old, Khalil has achieved the American dream with her third degree – all from Tennessee State University – including a doctorate.
On Friday, May 6, Khalil’s parents, along with two younger sisters born in the United States, were among hundreds of relatives and friends cheering on as Khalil and nearly 250 others received advance degrees at TSU’s graduate commencement. Khalil received a doctorate degree in physical therapy. She holds a bachelor’s degree in health science, and a master’s degree in business.
“I give all the credit to my parents,” says Khalil, a first-generation college student. “The gratitude is to my parents for giving me and my sisters the opportunity to live a life of freedom – the freedom to go to church, freedom to speak as a woman, freedom to learn and be anything we want to be.”
With U.S. visas won in a lottery, Khalil and her parents fled Egypt and its repressive lifestyle in 1996, first landing in New Jersey before moving to Tennessee six months later.
Khalil’s parents’ decision to flee Egypt, wasn’t easy. The two had just married with a host of relatives to leave behind, and dreams yet unfulfilled, including her mother’s own desire of becoming a doctor. And, in Egypt, a woman’s idea of success is to get married, have a family and children. Going to college, if you were fortunate to complete high school, was out of the question. With that in mind, Khalil’s parents decided that to give their young child any chance of success in life, they had to leave.
“This was a hard decision because my parents were very young and leaving all of their folks behind,” says Khalil. “My mom was not very sure about leaving. But they knew that as Christians in Egypt, we would be safer in the states with many opportunities, and I would be able to go to school. In Egypt, it is very risky to go to church and you never know what will happen when you step out of your home. It is not safe as Christians in Egypt. So, whenever you get an opportunity like this (to go to the US) you take it.”
While Khalil says fulfilling her American dream hinges on her parents’ foresight, hard work and her own desire to be the best, TSU has a lot to do with how it all came together. The nurturing, the personal care and family atmosphere, she says, made all the difference.
“Getting all my three degrees from TSU shows how much I care for this institution. There is something different about TSU,” says Khalil, who first came to TSU as a transfer student.
“TSU makes me feel like family. I went to other schools in undergrad, but I ended up getting my undergraduate degree from TSU. Other schools are more about your money. At TSU, I never had a professor who didn’t ask me, ‘How do you feel? How is your family? Do you need help? Can I help you in any way?’”
Khalil’s professors and advisors are equally thrilled about their protégé – her seriousness about learning and trying to be the best at everything she undertakes.
“The physical therapy program is fortunate to have a student like Christine,” says Dr. Ronald Barredo, professor and dean of the College of Health Sciences. “She has a strong work ethic, which is evident both academically and clinically. Christine would be a great ambassador for our program and institution. Patients would be most fortunate to have her as their physical therapist.”
Khalil isn’t the only sibling thriving at TSU. Her younger sister is in the graduate program in occupational therapy at the university, while the youngest is in the undergraduate nursing program at Belmont University. Although Khalil says America is her home, she feels great empathy for family members in Egypt and the plight of women and Christians in her native land.
Birmingham Mayor Randall L. Woodfin gave the commencement address at Khalil’s graduation.