Student Spotlight

Orphan no more: DNP graduate shares journey to his degree

May 20, 2019 by Victoria Lim

This year’s student speaker at the Pinning and Doctoral Hooding Ceremony for the Marybelle and S. Paul Musco School of Nursing and Health Professions so impressed the commencement committee, that he also gave the graduate student speech at the 2019 Southern Commencement. Ali Ahmadzai, DNP, worked full time as a registered nurse at the University of San Diego Medical Center while earning his Doctor of Nursing Practice degree with Brandman University. His journey began as a seven-year-old orphan fleeing communism.


Ali Ahmadzai, DNP, delivered the student remarks at the Pinning and Doctoral Hooding Ceremony and Southern Commencement for the Marybelle and S. Paul Musco School of Nursing and Health Professions.                    

Here are the remarks he gave at the Southern Commencement for the School of Nursing and Health Professions and the School of Arts and Sciences in front of 402 of his fellow graduates:


Dear parents, grandparents, children, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, all family members, as well as our dear friends, and our honorable professors: we did it!


My favorite poet, Rumi stated, “Come, seek, for search is the foundation of fortune: every success depends upon focusing the heart.” My fellow students, and loving, supporting families, we have all been in a three-year expedition together. At times, it seemed that this mountainous of a task was insurmountable. But, through anxiety, tears, laughter, sleepless nights, nightmarish APA formats, 40-page papers, new babies, with lots of wet diapers, we planted our flag on the summit of associates, baccalaureate, masters, Ph.D., and DNP programs! 

Personally, I can tell you all, being a newlywed, then having two children, working full time, and going for my doctorate, to say it was challenging?  Well, let’s just say, in the entire dictionary, I could not find a word to define the past three years.  So where is the success?  Everything that I mentioned, being a newlywed, is success, having two beautiful daughters, is success. Being blessed to work and provide for my family is success. And at the end of it all finishing a terminal doctorate degree is a bonus!

Even as a seven-year-old orphan escaping from the communists through the unforgiving mountains of Afghanistan, and finally getting accepted to America as a refugee, through my young days of not being able to speak English and being made fun of in schools, through my struggling grades, which can be blamed on my post-traumatic past, or perhaps just lazy - as some family members called me - I have always known that I was bound to be in the medical field.

In my seven-year-old heart, I wanted to help orphans, because only orphans can truly feel that emptiness that other orphans feel. Later, in my 20-something-year-old heart, I wanted to join groups such as United Nation envoys that serve the most needy of our human population around the world. In my 30-something-year-old heart and now 40-something-year-old heart, I’ve been wanting to join Doctors Without Borders for certain missions in war-torn countries. This was one of my goals and the other, to receive my terminal degree. 

That first phone interview with Dr. (Tyke) Hanisch welcoming me to the Brandman doctorate program, and humbly learning from all of my professors in the past three years, have not only brought my educational goals to fruition, it has also made me realize, that the seven-year old refugee child will complete his goals and dreams.

At the end, I want to thank my loving wife Rajae Jaan.  Rajae, thank you for being patient, encouraging, supportive, and a loving wife and mother.  I thank you for all of your hard work and sacrifice and being the sealant of the family.

Ahmadzai sister Merry

I want to thank my only sister Merry Jaan, who’s 5-foot 3-inch frame would tower over me and assertively encouraging me to pursue the nursing field, and later to compel me further to receive my doctorate degree. Without you, I would not be standing here today. Thank you for being my little sister and my mother. 


I want to thank my Uncle Assad Jaan for not only raising me, but other orphans, when you were only 17-years-old yourself. From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank all of my family members and friends.

I want to close with another poem by Rumi, where he said, “Yesterday is gone and its tale told. Today new seeds are growing.” My dear classmates and future colleagues, lets grow our own seed and leave our own legacy. God bless every one of you and your families. Thank you.

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