article by Sidney Cruze appears in the Winter 2005 edition of the
Magazine of Elon.)
left his native Amman, Jordan, and arrived at Elon University in
August 2001, eager to meet new people and pursue his dream of a
career in the film industry. Two weeks later, Majali and his classmates
watched in horror as terrorists attacked the World Trade Center
and the Pentagon.
In the hours
after the attacks, when shaken students gathered to discuss what
had happened, Majali spoke up. "He said he got his perception
of the U.S. from the media, the same place we got our perception
of the Middle East," recalls Rex Waters, assistant dean of
students. "He told us we needed to look deeper, to get to know
one another. All this from a freshman!"
riding a roller coaster of emotions that day. "I was sad for
the loss and nervous because I didn't know what lay ahead of me,"
he says. "At the same time, I felt a sense of commitment and
responsibility to let people know more about my religion and culture."
For Majali, Sept. 11, 2001, was the day he stepped into the role
he continues to play at Elon today - ambassador for the Arab world.
It is a role
he takes seriously. "When people see Arab terrorists, if they
know me, I hope they'll think, 'I know all Arabs are not like this
because I know Laith,'" says Majali, who is one of 67 international
students at Elon this academic year. "Some of my Jordanian
friends who are also studying in the states were scared, but I never
was. The Elon community embraced me completely. I was surprised
his olive complexion, bushy eyebrows and stocky build, Majali stands
out in a crowd of Elon students. But it is his respect for cultural
differences, his enthusiasm for learning and his love of film that
will leave a lasting impression on the university when he graduates
May 21 as Elon's first King Hussein Scholar. The scholarship, which
brings Jordanian citizens to study at Elon, was established in 2000
after a visit by Her Majesty Queen Noor, the wife of the late King
Hussein of Jordan.
major with a passion for broadcasting, Majali has spent three and
a half years impressing faculty, staff and students with his creative
videos and entertaining them with his sense of humor. He came to
Elon with two goals: to learn how to create and direct films and
to distinguish himself. He wasted no time accomplishing both goals.
In 2002, one
year after arriving at Elon, his four-minute video, "The Jordan
Experience," received three awards, including a Telly Award,
for outstanding quality in production. His video, which was judged
by industry professionals from across the country, combined colorful
scenes of Jordan's rural and urban life with images that showcase
the country's natural and architectural treasures, set to the lyrical
music of Jordanian composer Tarek Al-Nasser.
The award confirmed
what Elon faculty and staff knew already, that Majali is an exceptional
film editor. "I've never seen someone with Laith's creativity
who also has such a mastery of technical skills," says Linda
Lashendock, coordinator of Elon's television services, who spent
20 years as a news producer at CNN.
best by doing and has thrived with Elon's emphasis on experiential
education. "I came to America hoping to experience as much
as possible," he says. "Elon has given me so many opportunities
- internships, travel and friends everywhere. I feel blessed."
on the road
spent his summers off from university courses traveling and he considers
the summer of 2004 to be the most exciting of his Elon career. He
did a month-long internship at Intralink Film and Graphic Design
in Los Angeles, where he created graphics, researched ad concepts
and edited movie previews.
He also returned
to Jordan to film the 24th annual Arab Children's Congress, a cultural
exchange program founded by Queen Noor in 1980 for children from
Arab and European countries. Last summer, she invited Majali to
create a documentary as part of the 25th anniversary of the event,
which he decided to make the subject of his senior seminar project.
he landed exclusive interviews with Queen Noor and actress Angelina
Jolie, who attended the conference as a goodwill ambassador for
the United Nations. He concedes he was a bit starstruck by Jolie.
"She's even more beautiful in person, and she was very supportive
of the kids," Majali recalls. "To see that from her was
Majali is video crew coordinator for Elon Student TV, or ESTV. He
has supervised more than 300 video crews since he arrived on campus
and works on all major Elon video productions.
he helped fellow students produce a documentary on AIDS in Namibia
as part of Elon's Project Pericles civic engagement program. His
next project is to film a documentary on the late Isabella Cannon
'24, former mayor of Raleigh, N.C., and one of Elon's most generous
donors. Elon's Leadership Fellows program, international education
center and international studies pavilion are named in her honor.
is a Leadership Fellow and has taken full advantage of the program
to hone his skills.
likes to explore the way video fits together, and he's eager to
share what he's learned with other students," says Ray Johnson,
assistant professor of communications. "He's good at making
video look like film, which is a sophisticated technique. By doing
this he's been able to change and improve the look of Elon TV."
senior video producer, marvels at Majali's ability to create high-quality
videos while excelling academically and serving as a student leader.
Majali can often be found late at night in the editing studio, perfecting
his craft. McMerty, who teaches video editing workshops, finds Majali's
enthusiasm motivating. "He shows me what students can do when
they're excited about their projects, and he inspires me to find
new ways to get them excited," he says.
extends well beyond the classroom. He belongs to several campus
organizations, including the club soccer team and the Intercultural
Relations Club, and participates in Elon's Model United Nations
program. He keeps his friends amused with his uncanny impressions
of Jordan's late King Hussein and the late Palestinian leader Yasser
Arafat. Majali perfected these impressions while performing with
a professional theater group in Jordan. "He's hilarious,"
says senior Brittany Brackett, a friend from Charlotte, N.C. "He
can bring a smile to anyone's face. He walks in a room and you notice
other students also appreciate the unique cultural perspective Majali
brings to campus. Like Majali, Brackett is a Leadership Fellow and
the two have challenged each other to learn from their differences.
"We don't tell each other what we should believe," she
says. "We're always asking questions, saying 'I'm fascinated,
tell me more!'"
Lauritzen says Majali's perspective is invaluable at Elon. "It's
especially important that he's from the Middle East because it's
an area of the world we hear so many bad things about," he
says. "Laith is just a regular guy who likes to laugh and play
soccer like the rest of us."
on his own
Majali likes the diversity America offers, but he misses his parents
and two younger sisters back in Amman. His father, Mansour Majali,
is a businessman and his mother, May, works in one of four family-owned
bookstores. Still, he knows that being away from them has helped
I've had to depend on myself," says Majali. "It has given
me a sense of what it means to work hard to get somewhere."
family is well known in the Middle East. When former Israeli Prime
Minister Ehud Barak visited Elon two years ago, Majali introduced
himself during a question-and-answer session. Realizing he knew
Majali's uncles, Barak smiled and told the crowded auditorium, "It's
a great thing to have a Majali here at Elon."
by the motto "who dares, wins." After graduation, he plans
to go to Hollywood to test his skills in movies. He's interested
in film editing, film advertising and making movies, especially
comedies. Whichever path he chooses, he wants to establish a name
for himself before returning to Jordan to share his expertise.
He plans to
work with Jordan's fledgling Royal Film Commission, which comes
as no surprise to his professors. "The Jordanian film industry
is primitive, but Laith has a vision," says Johnson. "I
can see him going home, sharing what he's learned and heading up
a production company. I'll enjoy watching him achieve his next success."