If you’re applying to college, you can spend hours crafting the perfect admissions essay. Or you can just write the same word 100 times.
It worked for Ziad Ahmed.
The Princeton, New Jersey, high school senior was recently admitted to Stanford University after writing #BlackLivesMatter 100 times in response to the application question, “What matters to you and why?”
Ahmed has been flooded with attention since posting his essay answer to Twitter on Saturday.
“First, there was a word limit on the question prompt — you couldn’t have less than 100 words,” he explained in an interview with CNN.
“As I completed my application, my academic work, volunteer activity, extracurricular and activism created a picture, but it became apparent to me as I neared that final question that the picture lacked my voice,” he added. “It was important that to me that that the admissions officers literally hear my impatience for justice and the significance of this issue.”
Ahmed, 18, is a practicing Muslim and a self-described activist. He says much of his passion stems from him experiencing racism of his own.
He says he decided to use the hashtag because it conveyed his frustrations with the judicial system’s failure to protect the black community from violence, systemic inequity and political disenfranchisement.
CNN reached out to Stanford to confirm Ahmed’s story. A university spokesman said the school does not comment on student applications.
As a freshman in high school Ahmed founded Redefy, a nonprofit organization that advocates for social justice. Its mission is to defy stereotypes, defeat hate and promote tolerance through workshops for young students.
Ahmed says that as a Muslim who has faced bigotry in the US he feels an affinity for African Americans.
“The Islampphobia that is heavily present in this country is connected to the legacy of racism and oppression that the black community continues to face,” he said.
Ahmed told CNN he has been bullied online by white extremists since his successful Stanford application made headlines. But he says he’s also been overwhelmed by an outpouring of support and congratulations.
He hopes his story will encourage others to fight intolerance and social inequity.
Ahmed is still deciding which school he will attend. But wherever he goes to college, he said it’s his goal to listen, develop and innovate to become a better advocate and a better citizen.
“I am many things, but I am an unapologetic progressive activist first and foremost,” he said.