This article is being reprinted from the Great Neck Record, May 7, 1998
Mother of Two is C.W. Posts Valedictorian
By Jeff Picarello
JAMILA DALLAL (r.) has been named Valedictorian of the Class of 1998 at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University. Here, Dallal joins Dr. Joseph Shenker, Provost of the C.W. Post Campus.
Jamila Dallal of Great Neck was not sure she could succeed in college so late in life. But in 1995, she enrolled in an undergraduate program at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University, a lifetime and half-world away from where she attended high school. Now, the mother of two grown sons will celebrate Mother's Day as valedictorian of the class of 1998 when she graduates with 1,100 students on the Great Lawn of C.W. Post Campus in Brookville on May 10.
"I entered university five years ago filled with uncertainly at how I would fit in and whether I would be capable of handling school work after so many years," she said. "I soon realized that I was among students very much like myself, from a wide range of ages and different cultural backgrounds."
Born Jewish in Iraq, Jamila Dallal was raised in Tehran, Iran. When she graduated as valedictorian from an American missionary high school in 1966, opportunities were extremely limited for young women in Islamic countries. She trained for secretarial work and got a job, but soon married and had children. In 1979, the Islamic Revolution prompted her to take her children and flee her country. She sought refuge in the United States, and waited for her husband to join her.
"I really didn't think there was anything for me as a woman in the Middle East. I never had the opportunity for higher education until I came to America. It is here that every girl goes on to college."
In 1981, Jamila's husband joined her and their two sons in Great Neck. Their son Mayer, 25, is now a stockbroker, and Michael, 23, is graduating with a B.S. in engineering from a local college this year.
In 1993, Jamila decided it was time to return to school. She earned an A.A. in office technology at Nassau Community College, then enrolled in a bachelor's program in psychology at C.W. Post. Simultaneously, she began the American Bar Association-approved paralegal program at C.W. Post, graduated in December, 1997 and earned a certificate with distinction. Since then, she has worked full-time as a paralegal at law offices in Mineola while completing her degree in psychology and maintaining a perfect 4.0 average.
She plans to continue at C.W. Post for a master's degree in college student development counseling, and will participate in family and divorce mediation training this summer as part of her career as a paralegal.
"When I gave my valedictorian speech at my high school, I thought it would never happen to me again." Dallal explained. "It was always my dream to go to college, and now my dream has come true."
Learning The Hard Way
Difficult times living in the Middle East could not deter C.W. Post valedictorian, a Great Neck mother of two, from fulfilling her academic dreams.
Joy Alter Hubel
Appreciate freedom and never give up on your dream are two of the points Jamila Dallal will make in her valedictory speech Sunday at C.W. Post.
Few if any of her colleagues who will ascend podiums - nationwide this spring can back up such words with a lifetime of experience.
Dallal, 49, fled repressive regimes in Iraq and Iran before finally settling in Great Neck to raise her family, work and pursue the education she was always determined to have.
In her speech Sunday at the Long Island University cam pus in Brookville, Dallal will spread her enthusiasm for learning and share with her classmates a bit of her background.
"Many young people feel that they are under a lot of pressure, to work, to do well, to perform their social obligations," she says. "Yet I want to tell them that they should also feel joy and hopefulness about what they are about to undertake, and that whatever it is they want to do, it is never too late, and it is never too hard."
For Dallal, a mother of two who will celebrate Mother's Day making her speech, it will be the second time she has been honored as valedictorian "The first time ... was when I graduated from the American Missionarv School in Iran, over 30 years ago. But in that country, women had no academic or professional opportunity, and my speech was a farewell to my education. This time, it represents a beginning," she says.
In the fall, she will enter the C.W. Post Graduate School to pursue her master's degree in student development counseling.
The straight-A student, the only daughter among four siblings, was born in Iraq in 1949, soon after Israel won
its statehood. The Iraqis, who vehemently opposed Israeli
independence, began persecuting their Jewish population.
To avoid the increasingly repressive rule, Dallal's family, which ran a successful import-export business, escaped to bordering Iran, along with many other Iraqi Jews.
"At the time, in 1951, the Shah was good to Jews," says Dallal, whose family was able to practice their faith "fairly openly."
The Iranians, she says, also "helped us assimilate by providing schools in which we could learn Persian. We also learned to speak English and Hebrew. By the time I was in high school, I spoke Arabic, English, Persian and Hebrew, and was able to attend the Presbyterian-run American missionary school, where most of our textbooks and educational experiences were in English."
Dallal excelled as a student, and her language proficiency helped her find work with an American oil company following graduation. Unfortunately, secretarial work represented the professional pinnacle for women in Middle East countries.
"The men, of course, were encouraged to study, and many in my family, including my brother and husband, studied at American universities. The women were encouraged to marry and have children," she says.
After working for several years, Dallal married, had two children and went about the business of raising a family. But in 1979, with the Iranian Revolution imminent, political instability again intervened. The Shah may have been friendly to the Jews, but the Ayatollah Khomeini was not, and the Jewish population was subject to the repression that forced them from Iraq.
"We began to fear that our husbands and fathers would be jailed and all our belongings seized," Dallal recalls. "My family had reason to be particularly worried, since my father-in-law was a noted Zionist."
The family decided that in as much as Iran was allowing its women and children to emigrate, Dallal and her sons should leave. They first went to Israel before coming to Queens, where many of her in-laws were settling.
In America, she raised her children alone for three years while waiting for husband Sammi to escape from Iran. Finally, he managed to liquidate their possessions and smuggle himself out of the country to join Dallal in Great Neck, which features a large Jewish population from their part of the world.
The Dallals, including sons Mayer, 25, and Michael, 23, were active in the Conservative Temple Israel in Great Neck but are now involved in starting what they call a "Babylonian" congregation of Iraqi Jews.
Dallal's sons seem to appreciate better than anyone the extent of their mother's courage, ambition and commitment.
"My mother has always been someone who does whatever she puts her mind to," says Mayer, a stock broker who is starting his own business in electronic trading. "I've seen her juggle work, school and family life. I think I've, learned from her how to put your mind to something you want to accomplish. "
Yet whatever she has achieved, Michael says, it's been with humility.
"In a way, my mother and I were going to school together, and that made us closer," says the Hofstra senior, who is studying acoustical engineering. "Shc'd ask my friends for help with her studies, and theyd come to her for help with theirs. There was a feeling that we were all in it together."
Dallal's professional and academic background reflects diversity. When she began working, she studied for and earned a real estate license. Later, when her children were older, she returned to school, first for an associate's degree in office technology, then a bachelor's degree in psychology, all the while completing a paralegal certification program.
She also minored in Spanish, a discipline that enabled her to read South American writers such as Isabel Allende and Gabriel Marcia Marquez in their original language.
"I think what may have ultimately impressed the valedictoty selection committee," Dallal concedes, "was the educational diversity of the courses I had chosen. I wanted to take everything I could. I wanted to learn about history, anthropology and sociology. I didn't just care about filling credit requirements."
In the Middle East or on the North Shore, it was always about learning.