College of Social Sciences
Why did you choose your major?
Right out of high school, I knew I wanted to know about “culture.” I had no idea why it mattered, but I had questions. What do human interactions entail? Why do people believe what they believe? Where does meaning come from? Art history, sociology, and linguistics couldn’t answer these questions for me. When I took a cultural anthropology class in undergrad, I got hooked to the discipline and have stayed in it ever since.
What does receiving this particular award mean to you?
I belong in graduate school. Considering how difficult graduate programs are, this is a statement that I’ve had a hard time believing ever since I started in mine. Even when professors said quite plainly that I was doing well, on the right track, or something else along those lines, I believed them logically, but it didn’t sink in. Being awarded for my academic excellence has finally made it sink in.
Who has had the greatest influence or impact on your life? In addition, tell us about a SJSU faculty member who contributed to your academic success.
I can say without a doubt that those who have impacted me the most have been my siblings. My older sister has been an ever-present voice of reason for me, and I for her. It was through her counsel that I was able to navigate undergrad, gather the courage to start graduate school, and make the changes in my life that have led me toward independence. My younger brother, though eight years my junior, keeps me mentally sharp. I can claim my prowess as an anthropologically informed and dialectical thinker all I want to. But he’s the reason I’m able to take that skill into my day to day life and personal interactions. That skill is what has kept me going not just in my academic life but also in professional and personal interactions. I couldn’t have honed that without him, and with him, I still continue to do so.
As for faculty members, who hasn’t contributed to my success? The proverb “it takes a village to raise a child” isn’t just restricted to villages and children. It takes a university to raise a grad student! That being said, Roberto Gonzalez, AJ Faas, Jan English-Lueck, Charlotte Sunseri, and Elizabeth Weiss would be the top five faculty members who have influenced my research interests and writing abilities. Sharmin Khan, from the linguistics department, and Lisa Stenmark, from the religious studies department, both taught classes in undergrad to which I could apply anthropology to other disciplines.
Describe an experience that has shaped who you are today.
It is difficult to pick just one experience; there is too much in one life, too many variables in one experience, for one experience to paint a big enough picture. A series of life circumstances that has impacted me is the process of moving internationally multiple times. I’ve lived in California, Palestine, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates. I’m also the child of immigrant parents. These life circumstances have blended for me a multicultural, multilingual experience that has made me comfortable with they grey areas of human experiences. Living outside of dualities has opened my mind to the ways of others as well as potential life paths for me.
What would you say to other students to encourage or inspire them to attain academic excellence?
It is common to use the prospect of a broad range of career opportunities after graduation to encourage current college students, both undergraduate and graduate, to be excellent. While having this end goal in mind is important, it doesn’t necessarily make academic matters easier in the moment. In addition to thinking about the future, situate your education in the present. What do you value about your academic career right now? Is it your major? A project you’re working on? A particular professor? Your group of friends? Maybe you want to make one of your family members proud, or honor the memory of a deceased loved one. Maybe it’s your faith that keeps you going. Whatever it is, realize that being in college right now is impacting that facet of your life right now. Being in the moment helps to see how your current efforts are paying off. Work from that.
What makes you a Spartan?
I’m allergic to quitting. I finish what I start.
Nominated by Roberto Gonzalez
Professor, Anthropology Department
“Simon is one of the best students in our undergrad and grad programs since I have been here. As a new MA student, he is developing an incredible study on aging, place/housing, and social support among older LGBTQ residents of the Bay Area.”