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Elon graduate leaves legacy of international trust

Jordanian student Laith Majali had been at Elon less than a month before the September 11 terrorist attacks. As he prepares for graduation this Saturday, Majali looks back on a remarkable four years on campus. Details...

When senior Laith Majali arrived to a recent meeting 15 minutes early, he chalked it up to his four years at Elon.

“Punctuality, that’s something Americans have taught me,” Majali laughed. “Before I came to Elon, I would have been 30 minutes late.”

But Majali’s arrival at Elon in August 2001 from his home in Amman, Jordan couldn’t have been timed better. A broadcast communications major who will receive his degree at Elon’s 115th Commencement Saturday, May 21, Majali came to Elon as the university’s first King Hussein of Jordan Scholar. The scholarship program was established by Hussein’s widow, Queen Noor, to help a Jordanian student attend Elon. Majali had been on campus a little more than two weeks when Islamic terrorists launched the devastating September 11 attacks in New York and Washington.

“Of course, I was late for class that morning and on the way, I saw footage on the television in Moseley Center from New York,” Majali said. “While I was standing there, I saw the second plane hit, so I went up to class and told everyone about it. At first, they didn’t believe me, but I assured them this was not a joke.”

Like his fellow students, Majali was horrified by the violence. He was also worried about what he might confront in the way of a backlash against Arabs in the United States. Instead, he was pleasantly surprised.

“What happened was that the community here was respectful and wanted to know more about my culture,” Majali said. “Some of my friends in America faced racism and hatred, but here, I didn’t feel that.”

At a campus gathering the day after the attacks, Majali asked students, faculty and staff to ignore the Arab stereotypes being portrayed in media reports.

“I remember saying that what you know about us (Arabs) is largely from TV,” Majali said. “I said we should take this opportunity to get to know each other.”

His words struck a chord with the campus community. Professors began inviting Majali to come talk to classes, and local schools and churches extended offers for him to visit as well.

“I benefited from those opportunities because it helped me get to know people and make friends,” Majali said. “I realized that I was going to be an ambassador for the Arab world.”

Majali soon became one of the most recognizable figures on campus. He immersed himself in his broadcast studies and distinguished himself as a film editor and producer. His sense of humor and outgoing personality have endeared him to his classmates, many of whom are surprised to hear his perfect rendition of a Southern accent.

“I guess it’s not every day that you hear a Jordanian bust out a Southern accent,” Majali joked.

After graduation, Majali will take his talents to Los Angeles to work with a friend on writing a script for a feature length motion picture. He would like to find a job in film post-production and work to eradicate negative stereotypes of Arabs in American film. Someday, he hopes to return to Jordan to build his own film production business. “I want to make a name for myself here in this country first,” Majali said.

Majali calls his time at Elon “the best four years of my life. I’ve learned a lot about respecting people from different countries, religions and backgrounds, and to respect people for who they are. And I hope people have learned something from me, too.”

David Hibbard,
5/18/2005 2:24 PM