CPS grad Roshaan Khalid barely spoke English 5 years ago. He is headed to Princeton on a full ride this fall.

“He’s worked so hard to get to this point,” said his Mather High School counselor. “The universe is just going to open up for him.”

SHARE CPS grad Roshaan Khalid barely spoke English 5 years ago. He is headed to Princeton on a full ride this fall.

Roshaan Khalid graduated Saturday from Mather High School on the North Side.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

To say Roshaan Khalid’s had a difficult transition when he moved 7,000 miles to Chicago five years ago from Pakistan is putting it mildly: When Khalid enrolled in eighth grade in Chicago Public Schools, he knew little English and wasn’t sure how he’d be able to learn much.

“The whole [school] system was different. I wasn’t fluent in English, so that was a challenge,” Khalid, 18, says now. “I couldn’t understand my teachers, so I spent more time on my studies.”

Khalid ended up studying so hard that he not only aced his classes at West Ridge Elementary and later Mather High School, he was accepted to the Ivy Leagues. This fall he will head to Princeton University, where he won a full scholarship and plans to major in computer science.

“What’s amazing is that he’s had a very difficult life, and he’s worked so hard to get to this point,” said Paige Stenzel, Khalid’s high school counselor for three years. “The universe is just going to open up for him.”

Khalid graduated Saturday. He is the salutatorian of his class.

Computer passion rekindled in the U.S.

When he arrived in the U.S. at age 13, Khalid’s teachers at West Ridge gave him grammar and language lesson books to supplement his learning, aiding his English skills.

Though he discovered his love of computers in first grade, moving to the United States further fueled his passions. He quickly realized the impact big tech companies were having on the world.

“I saw that America was driven by computers and technology. Seeing companies like Amazon, Google and Microsoft making a difference in people’s lives [reignited] my love for computers,” Khalid said. “Technology is solving major world problems.”

Opportunities like Mather’s IT Academy continued to kindle his interests. There he learned Photoshop and computer programming languages including HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

Khalid also participated in Northwestern Academy, a free, multi-year college access and enrichment program through Northwestern University.

“We went on field trips to different colleges and took college-level courses during the summer,” he said. “I just challenged myself and came out of my comfort zone and learned leadership skills.”

Stenzel praised Khalid’s work ethic.

“He will take the time to listen to what everybody has to say and take something away from it,” Stenzel said. “He’s a very humble young man.”


Khalid’s family didn’t know he even applied to Princeton, where he will study this fall on a full scholarship.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

The importance of listening was a big takeaway from his high school experience.

“In order to develop innovative solutions to pressing global issues, I believe we must listen to each other, even if our opinions differ greatly or lead to feelings of discomfort,” Khalid said. “Expanding our point of view ensures that the knowledge we have and produce is not singular or reductive to only our ideologies.”

However, Khalid did not succeed on his own. His single mom worked multiple jobs, even “on the weekends to make ends meet,” he said. She also resisted calls from relatives to move back to Pakistan.

“My mother prioritized our education over everything,” he said.

What was her reaction when he was accepted to Princeton?

“My family is very proud of me,” Khalid said — after they got over the initial surprise. “They were shocked because they did not even know I applied.”

Stenzel believes Khalid’s success will benefit his family, too. His older brother, who is also a Mather graduate, worked to help the family but is now in college.

“That means not just good things for him but great things for his older brother and mother who have sacrificed a lot for him,” Stenzel said.

Khalid also worked on weekends for a couple of years at Sweet Virginia’s Kitchen in Ravenswood. He said the job taught him the importance of teamwork.

“If we work together, we can accomplish bigger goals and harder tasks easily and quickly,” Khalid said.

He hopes to work at a company like Google or Amazon and has dreams of designing his own software or app.

“I want to make and design software that can help the quality of life,” he said, citing inspiration from entrepreneurs in the technology industry. “They are problem solvers and making a huge difference in people’s lives.”

He added: “Maybe I can start my own company.”

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