PENNINGTON FIELD, BEDFORD — Sprawled across the pavement of the Hurst-Euless-Bedford Independent School District’s centralized stadium, some 1,940 runners and walkers soak in the pleasant air of a slightly overcast Spring day in Texas. The sounds of #1 Hit Songs pump across the vacated parking spaces, Katy Perry and Kansas taking turns serenading the rows of tents that stand where once cars would have. Between the array of sports cars on one end of the lot and the stage at the other, a line of barricades bedecked with inflatable tunnels and finish lines marks the occasion: the Fourth Annual Run for Hope, a charity marathon benefitting 6 Stones and its efforts to support local students. In this festival atmosphere, it’s hard to believe that the morning began with a ferocious downpour. But for two HEB students, a dramatic improvement in the weather is far from the biggest blessing on the day.
Though they come from different sides of the school district, Inara Dharani and Mohammed Rashid have more in common than their choice of undergraduate studies. Both Rashid and Dharani will be pursuing medical degrees at the University of Texas at Arlington next year, having reached the end of a high school career shaped by the demands of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Each of them have earned top marks, with Grade Point Averages above 4.0 and class rankings in the top ten percent of students on their respective campuses. They are also both recipients of this year’s Dr. Gene and Mary Kay Buinger Scholarship, funded by the Run for Hope.
Dharani and Rashid are polar opposites embarking on the same course. The former is soft-spoken, reflective, and gentle. The latter, a charismatic and potent personality with unbridled confidence. Rashid spends his free time at the gym, split between workouts and time on the basketball court. He plays on the L.D. Bell soccer team, and will follow in the footsteps of a brother and two cousins in the field of medicine. Dharani has spent so much time volunteering in this community that she hopes to remain here once she is a registered nurse. Both are first-generation Americans, raised in this community by parents who moved from the other side of the world to give their family a chance to thrive. And both are proud to come from such homes.
“They’ve always been there for me, making the sacrifices that parents do,” Rashid said of his family, who moved here from Bangladesh in the 1990s. “They put us, their children, always in front of them. I notice that all the time. I feel like I should dedicate a lot of my work to them, because we owe them a lot.”
Crediting his parents and the teachings of the Quran for his values, Rashid says that he believes in excelling no matter the circumstance. He is convinced of the power of optimism and hard work, which perhaps explains his success within the notoriously rigorous IB program and his unwavering drive toward one of the most difficult professions in the modern world. It’s no easy feat, but the graduating senior intends not only to graduate from UTA and become a family doctor, but to do so without taking on student loans or debt. Very few families can afford to send their children college without help — Dr. Gene Buinger, former superintendent of HEB ISD, gave a rough estimate of perhaps 5% within this area — and Rashid intends to cover most of his costs with student aid supplemented by a part-time job.
In fact, he applied for the scholarship established in honor of Dr. Buinger the day he heard about it. The deadline had almost passed at that point, but he beat the clock and secured another $2,000 toward a degree that left the average graduate owing in excess of $180,000 last year. Medicine is one of the most costly careers to pursue, and neither Rashid nor Dharani have any illusions about the challenges that await them. Both intend to work their way through school, and each is assembling a collection of scholarships to cut down the cost, one installment at a time. A single scholarship might not seem like much, but it makes a big difference when considered as part of the bigger picture.
“I think it’s very important,” Dharani said of the financial support she received through 6 Stones and the Buinger scholarship, having herself begun to calculate the full cost of college. “It can pay for more than books and transportation. It can cover a little bit of the tuition cost, too. So I think it helps a lot.”
Collegeboard estimates that undergraduate students spend in the neighborhood of $1,300 on books and supplies every year; adding to the already astronomical cost of higher education in America. To the unprepared student, those additional costs can come as a shock. It’s hard to wrap your brain around parting with thousands of dollars for books when the ink is still drying on the ten to twenty thousand dollar tuition check in the admissions office. But for these industrious and level-headed students, nothing comes as a surprise. They’re ready.
“It was kind of intimidating at first because it’s a different environment and there are different kinds of people there,” Dharani said of her first tours at UTA, “but since I was in the IB program I feel like I’ve been prepared to know and see what college is going to be like. So I wasn’t very nervous, but just kind of intrigued.”
Rashid expressed a similar confidence, noting that “IB, I think, was the best preparation ever. Right now, exams are going on and it feels like Finals Week. That’s really helping me get a feel for it… I’m not going to be new to it in college. I’m going to know how to learn from my weaknesses and from my strengths and really take advantage of that going into college and trying to work as hard as possible to get the best grades as early as possible.”
For two years, these students have drilled, studied, presented and essayed in the classrooms at Trinity and Bell High Schools. They’ve counted the cost of a degree and laid the groundwork for tackling that cost. But more importantly, they’ve weighed out their options and resources, and discovered in themselves that most elusive of forces: purpose.
Rashid has anticipated a medical career for many years, having seen his cousins flourish in it. Dharani, whose siblings are also UTA graduates, discovered her passion more recently. Taking advantage of the school district’s partnership with Harris Methodist HEB, the aspiring nurse was able to work rotations in a hospital and experience her idealized profession firsthand. According to her scholarship application, it wasn’t until she was able to assist a patient with her own hands that she truly felt at home in a pair of scrubs. She had to know what it was like to care for a stranger, even on a days that may have taken a psychological toll. Nurses, she says, must have kind hearts.
“While I was doing clinical rotations, when I was doing my rounds in the hospital, that’s when I realized that that’s the kind of person I was and that’s the kind of thing I could be doing,” she told 6 Stones over the phone. “That’s how I knew that nursing was going to be a career that works well with me and with my personality.”
Like her peer, the future Trinity graduate credits her parents for raising her to be the kind of caring individual one must be to survive as a nurse. While she was hesitant to brag on herself, Dharani has a track record of giving back to her neighbors. She’s volunteered at two Community Powered Revitalization blitzes with 6 Stones and served as a course monitor for the Run for Hope in 2014. Two years later, she was on stage following the fourth annual event, accepting a check from Dr. Buinger himself.
When asked about the experience of coming full circle, from volunteer to recipient, she confessed that the thought hadn’t even crossed her mind. She’d simply volunteered when she thought she was needed, and applied for assistance with an expensive degree. While it was the last thing on her mind, the Dr. Gene and Mary Kay Buinger Scholarship was designed to reward that kind of selflessness.
“It’s great for the community to come out and do things together,” Buinger recently said of the Run for Hope and the scholarship it helps to fund. “We live very segregated lives. Our work, where we live, where we go to practice our faith. So it is so neat to see the community come together around an event. And not just a fundraising event, but a fitness event, because lifetime fitness is important… it is truly great to see individuals — from many different faith backgrounds and many different nationalities, et cetera, but they’re all from this community — come here and take part in this event.”
There’s an unbelieveable amount of love and charity in the cities we call home. The kind that sees 199 volunteers and almost 2,000 athletes turn up for a run set hours after a deluge that turned its starting line into a stream and threatened to cancel the event itself. The kind that sees over $7,000 in scholarships distributed by three distinct foundations, a handful of businesses and a local church. The kind that runs 10 kilometers and, instead of being exhausted, sits down with a stranger to share a banana and talk about the car show at the end of the race. The kind that doesn’t exclude or ignore a student from Pakistan, that gathers funds from secular sources through a Christian network, and that gifts those resources to a Muslim student who dreams of saving lives.
Mohammed Rashid and Inara Dharani are very different people. They share a common path that they walk with a different clip. But they have one very important thing in common; one last miracle to celebrate.
Their community loves them unconditionally.