Mission to Succeed
How a Creek student accomplished her lofty goals
Kisa Ibrahim was only a fifth-grader when she first felt the thrill of practicing law. During a social sciences class at Quiet Waters Elementary School, she and her classmates put Christopher Columbus on trial—and Kisa acted as the defense attorney. Though she doesn’t remember if she won or lost the case, she does remember how it made her feel.
“I liked interrogating witnesses and trying to put them into a corner,” the 18-year-old says. “I’m very argumentative by nature, so it just seemed really natural.”
It’s no surprise that the Coconut Creek resident is now on her way to law school at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. She decided to go to D.C. to be close to her other passion: politics, which she has been obsessed with since watching the presidential debates during Barack Obama’s run for office in 2007. Her mother, Pakistan native Erum Motiwala, recalls how her daughter, then 7, didn’t want Hillary Clinton to be the nominee that year because Kisa wanted to be the first female president.
Motiwala learned about Florida Atlantic University High School in Boca Raton—a dual-enrollment program that allows students to begin working toward a college degree—and encouraged Kisa to attend. While Kisa says most students graduate with an associate degree, she created her own timeline to reach higher aspirations.
“Going into it, it was my goal to be able to finish my bachelor’s degree and high school diploma at the same time, so I knew that I would be saving four years,” Kisa says. “My mom got a master’s degree and a CPA certification, so I knew that I was going to graduate school. It just made sense to be able to save more time.”
Kisa intended to earn a bachelor’s in political science with minors in business law and criminal justice. When she realized that she only needed a few more credits to earn another bachelor’s, she decided to overload on classes during her last semester. She graduated magna cum laude in two degrees, a bachelor’s in political science and a bachelor’s in criminal justice—almost a week before her high school graduation.
Coconut Creek Lifestyle asked Kisa, who deservedly earned a “generous” scholarship to attend George Washington, to offer some advice to Creek students looking to make the most of their high school years.
Explore your interests: You don’t have to have your future entirely mapped out. Kisa had an idea of what she wanted to study, but she investigated more before deciding. Despite her childhood aspirations, she planned to major in international business and finance at the end of her freshman year. A world politics class she took during her sophomore year pushed her toward law school. She asked for permission to sit in on upper-level classes and signed up for more political science courses, finding she enjoyed the subject more than international business. “I could see myself doing that in the future more than sitting in a conference room and practicing business,” she says.
Don’t spread yourself too thin: Kisa participated in a variety of school activities and organizations, among them the mock trial team, Interact service club, tennis team, student government, National Honor Society, Phi Alpha Delta (a coed prelaw fraternity) and even helped to organize her high school prom. Looking back, she says she would’ve cut down on extracurricular activities to have more enriching experiences. “I feel like if I had been [more selective], there would have been more that I could’ve focused on in individual clubs,” she says. “I’m sure there were things I had to prioritize over the other, and I could have [avoided that].”
Don’t worry if you still have questions: After completing internships at the Broward County Public Defender’s Office and the state attorney’s office in Palm Beach County, Kisa is confident she wants to be a lawyer. Although she’s not sure whether she’ll pursue corporate or criminal law, she knows there’s time to decide. “I did have a strong interest in business too, so I’m not sure if I’ll combine the two,” she says. “I feel like that’s something I’ll figure out in law school.”
Stay organized: A few coffee-fueled all-nighters taught Kisa that she couldn’t afford to procrastinate. “Coffee stopped working for me,” she recalls. She started keeping a planner to stay organized and prioritizing schoolwork over extracurricular activities.
Stay balanced: Kisa developed a trick to balance her schoolwork and social life: She kept two calendars, one on her phone for her social activities and a physical one for school. Doing this kept her from feeling overwhelmed. “I didn’t see my calendar and think, ‘I have to finish four assignments, and I have to get ready for dinner with my friends,’” she says. “[Keeping two calendars] was a way to keep that out of mind while I was focusing on schoolwork.”
Shoot for the stars: Kisa isn’t one to sell herself short when it comes to her goals. She wants to become a U.S. representative or senator—a path, she believes, that can lead to president of the United States. “I don’t want to be in courtrooms my entire life; and, after that, I wouldn’t want a desk job,” she says. “There’s a lot of issues I’ve seen, especially in the past two or three years, that I have strong opinions about. I’d like to help influence [those issues] in a positive way.”
Understand that it’s you against you: Just because one way is successful for one student, it doesn’t mean it will work for another. Kisa believes she wouldn’t have been able to earn two degrees if she also held a job, like many other students do. She suggests that students be aware of what they can handle. “Don’t try to compete with others,” Kisa says. “You don’t know what’s going on in their lives. … Only push yourself to do as much as you believe you can.”