When Ziad Ahmed was asked "What matters to you, and why?" on his Stanford University application, only one thing came to mind: #BlackLivesMatter.
So for his answer, Ahmed — who is a senior at Princeton Day School in Princeton, New Jersey — wrote #BlackLivesMatter exactly 100 times. The risky decision paid off. On Friday, Ahmed received his acceptance letter from Stanford.
"I was actually stunned when I opened the update and saw that I was admitted," Ahmed said in an email. "I didn't think I would get admitted to Stanford at all, but it's quite refreshing to see that they view my unapologetic activism as an asset rather than a liability."
On Saturday, Ahmed posted his answer and acceptance letter on Twitter with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. The tweet now has over 700 retweets and over 2,000 likes. It has also been retweeted by members of Campaign Zero, a police reform campaign, and some of its founders, Brittany Packnett and Samuel Sinyangwe.
"My unapologetic progressivism is a central part of my identity, and I wanted that to be represented adequately in my application," Ahmed said.
Ahmed said his Islamic faith and his commitment to justice is intertwined. He believes he wouldn't be practicing his religion correctly if he turned a blind eye to the injustices the black community faces on a daily basis.
"To me, to be Muslim is to be a BLM ally, and I honestly can't imagine it being any other way for me," Ahmed said. "Furthermore, it's critical to realize that one-fourth to one-third of the Muslim community in America are black ... and to separate justice for Muslims from justices for the black community is to erase the realities of the plurality of our community."
Ahmed said as an ally of the black community, he felt it was his duty to make a statement and speak up against the injustices he witnesses. But while he does consider himself as an activist first, he emphasizes that it's not his place to speak on behalf of the black community.
"As an ally of the black community though, it is my duty to speak up in regards to the injustice, and while this was not a form of 'activism' as it was simply an answer in a college application," he said. "I wanted to make a statement."
Perhaps it's no surprise, though, that Stanford wanted Ahmed among its class of 2021. The Bangladeshi-American teen has already been making impressive waves in his activism work. At just 18 years old, Ahmed has already been invited to the White House Iftar dinner and recognized as an Muslim-American change-maker under the Obama administration.
In 2016, he interned and worked for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign after leading Martin O'Malley's youth presidential campaign. In November 2015, Ahmed gave a TedxTalk in Panama City, Panama, discussing the perils and impact of stereotypes as a young Muslim teen.
He serves as the founder and president of Redefy, a teen organization of about 300 students around the world working collaboratively to defy stereotypes, and co-founded his own youth-centered consulting firm called JÜV Consulting.
Ahmed has an entrepreneurial spirit and often times that requires taking a lot of risks. It's why he answered the essay question with a simple statement on behalf of black lives — because he wanted to attend a university that would empower and further his activism rather than stand in the way.
In addition to Stanford, Ahmed said he has already been accepted to Yale University and Princeton University. He has until May 1 to decide which school to attend. As for his major, he's still undecided. It's somewhere among international relations, cognitive science, economics or comparative studies in race and ethnicity, he said.
But one thing Ahmed is sure about is the reason he purposefully didn't further explain the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag.
"The insistence on an explanation is inherently dehumanizing," Ahmed said. "Black lives have been explicitly and implicitly told they don't matter for centuries, and as a society — it is our responsibility to scream that black lives matter because it is not to say that all lives do not matter, but it is to say that black lives have been attacked for so long, and that we must empower through language, perspective, and action."
Stanford University declined to comment, stating that they "do not discuss student applications."