NVC’s Valedictorian Selection Committee selected London Legree and Huzaifa Kamran Khawaja as the 2020 valedictorians. Since Napa Valley College was unable to host a traditional commencement ceremony this year, we videotaped their speeches and shared them on our website.
Meet London Legree
A resident of Fairfield, London Legree started attending NVC in fall 2017 because she heard “it was a great community college that prepared you well for transferring.” London got involved in campus life right away, first as part of SSS Trio in 2017, then Umoja in 2018, and then in 2019, she was elected to the Associated Students of Napa Valley College (ASNVC) and also became president of the Black Student Union (BSU). In addition, from 2019 to 2020, London worked as a student worker in the counseling department.
London acknowledges SSS Trio for supporting students and giving them the necessary resources to thrive in college. And she points to Umoja for helping African American students navigate the college experience and create a safe space/community for Black students. Often one of the only African American students in the room, London pondered her place at the college and wondered if she deserved to be there. She realized other African American students might have similar insecurities because of skin color and she became a voice for students, especially those who were underrepresented.
London lost her grandmother in spring 2018 year at Napa Valley College and almost dropped out, but she recalled how proud her grandmother was of her achievements and knew she would have wanted her to stay in school.
“Education is a mental weapon and once we know the power it holds, the more powerful we become.”
“Education is a mental weapon and once we know the power it holds, the more powerful we become,” she said. London thinks back to the beginning of her educational journey and reminisces, “I wish someone would have told me, ‘London, this is the beginning of the most important day of your life.” London’s parents were busy trying to keep a roof over her and her siblings head, clothes on their backs and food in their stomachs. They didn’t have the luxury of time to slow down and show her how to use that powerful weapon of education, but she figured it out. Her family life was a direct manifestation of how a lack of education can affect one’s lifestyle, and that is when she became aware of how powerful education can be and how she could use education as a weapon to change her circumstances.
London is graduating with two transferable degrees, an AA-T in both sociology and psychology and will be transferring to UC Davis in the fall, where she is planning to get a bachelor’s degree in psychology and minor in ethnic studies. With a goal of helping others, London is already looking ahead to a master’s and a doctorate in psychology. She eventually wants to open her own K-12 school and her own practice serving low-income families. The possibilities of becoming a speech and language pathologist and opening a nonprofit that serves underrepresented groups in society are also on her list.
“I know many people questioned how we could finish during this pandemic, but the answer to that was our drive and determination to finish strong,” she said.
Her advice to other students: “Keep your eye on whatever goals you have for yourself and remember that you made it through these times, so you can make it through anything. Also, find your support systems because, as they say, it takes a village to raise a child — or in this case, it takes a school community to raise a well-rounded individual.”
Meet Huzaifa Kamran Khawaja
Twenty-two-year-old Huzaifa Kamran Khawaja has been in the United States for less than three years, but has made quite a mark in that short time. In 2017, his father, a retired Pakistani Air Force logistics officer, and his mother, a homemaker, immigrated with the family from Pakistan, when Huzaifa was in the midst of completing his A-levels, roughly equivalent to a college-prep high school in the United States.
They settled in Napa County and Huzaifa’s cousins recommended he start his college journey at Napa Valley College, where they, too, had studied. “After one semester, I knew it was the right place for me,” said Huzaifa, who plans to become a doctor.
Huzaifa was elected to the Associated Students of Napa Valley College (ASNVC) in 2018 and represented the student body as the student trustee on the NVC Board of Trustees. He served on two trustee committees, Real Property and Finance, as well as on two hiring committees and the student discipline hearing panel. He also served as an officer in the Dreamers of Community Change student club and vice president for NVC’s Phi Theta Kappa college project.
“I keep a diary to help me schedule my time,” he said with a smile. “When I am of service to others, I feel good. My culture and my parents raised me that way.”
“When I am of service to others, I feel good. My culture and my parents raised me that way.”
Huzaifa studied molecular and cellular biology at Napa Valley College and earned two associate degrees — in natural science and mathematics, and in natural science with an emphasis on life sciences — in preparation for transferring to UC-Berkeley this fall. He was recently recognized in The Biophysical Journal, the peer-reviewed scientific journal of the Biophysical Society, as coauthor of the study “Block of the Cardiac Potassium Channel HERG by Cations.”
This year, Huzaifa received one of only 10 Hite Scholar awards conferred nationwide by the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, recognizing the academic achievement of students at two-year colleges. He was also named a semi-finalist on the Phi All-USA Academic Team and a 2020 Coca-Cola Academic Team Gold Scholar, one of only 50 nationwide.
Huzaifa said that he has “always had a thirst for knowledge and been interested in science,” and that understanding molecular and cellular biology will give him a solid foundation for his two years at UC Berkeley preparing for med school, with an eye on perhaps pursuing cardiology and cardiatric surgery. When asked about his hopes for medical school, Huzaifa is humble but eager when he allows that “either UCSF or Stanford is the dream.”
And following his practice of being of service to others, he offers some sage advice: “Remember that your life is like a sine wave, with ups and downs. If you are down, don’t forget it’s going to go back up. And when it does go back up, you’ll be more durable and fulfilled at the end.”