So it’s that time of year again. No, not Eid. No, not the other Eid. No, it’s not National Beard Day. What kind of calendar are you looking at?

Yes, my friends, it is time for the start-of-the-year MSA Kickoff event, and this year’s theme is Medieval Times, but you knew that already didn’t you, since this is going to be released after all is said and done.

But! I wanted to take a moment to give you a snapshot into my life as to how the MSA made its impact on me: from the beginning of my freshman year to my sophomore year which I am just starting. And let me give you a spoiler: it impacted my life a ton.

Let’s start by going all the way back to when I was a clueless little freshman, scrolling through Facebook trying to learn all I could about “the most highly-proclaimed MSA on the East Coast” (I may be exaggerating). I saw that their first event was on a Thursday – get used to that, that’s when they always have their events – and, despite me being the reserved kid who had been hunkering down in her dorm room ever since she moved in, I decided to go.

That day came and I entered the hall, a nervous wreck, because I knew absolutely no one – and I mean no one – while everyone else did. An already formidably-sized crowd was buzzing with chatter, people were catching up with friends whom they hadn’t seen during the summer… and then there was me standing off to the side like a loser. Still, I felt a connection that I hadn’t had in the two weeks I’d been at Rutgers, and I held that comfort close.

Eventually, everyone settled down and the official Kickoff for the 2014 school year started as we sat through many announcements, videos and speeches by the officers. As they talked, I slowly became aware of a smile on my face; it was as if I already knew how much of a family this MSA would become to me. Heck, I felt the most comfortable in that tiny, crammed-to-the-brim room with Muslims breathing down my neck. Something within me was recharging and, while I couldn’t put my finger on it, it was a good feeling.

The event wound down and some people went for snacks, some left and others went to the side to sign up for the numerous sub-clubs in MSA (like Submissions). Somewhere in the whirlwind of activity, I found two girls, freshman like me, and we stuck together like a delicious PB&J sandwich. I couldn’t even begin to describe the feeling of inclusion that swirled in that place when we three held hands to form a human chain going through the brother’s side, giggling all the way. It was simply amazing.

As soon as I stepped through the doors leading outside to leave, my mood sobered. It may not have been a crazy party, but I certainly didn’t want that night to end.

Fast forward to this year’s Kickoff, throw some sunglasses on me and call me a cool kid because I was living the halal life: great fun, awesome friends (I’m still friends with one of the aforementioned girls) and a seriously caring community that always has my back. And most of all, my faith had become the strongest it had been in all my years.

But above all else, I have to remember where I came from and how I started out. Because I’d definitely not have any of these things if I didn’t put myself out there and take risks. My decision started a chain reaction all because of that one event I pushed myself to go to and while this can be applied to anything…

This is my MSA story.

By Hira Shahbaz

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