First to the finish line

LMC student completes semester in less than a year.

Nela+Taeb+dressed+in+her+cap+and+gown+for+her+high+school+graduation+on+June+3%2C+2021.

Photo courtesy of Nela Taeb

Nela Taeb dressed in her cap and gown for her high school graduation on June 3, 2021.

Katrina Anabo, Staff Writer

Seventeen-year-old high school senior Nela Taeb is in bed when she hears a sudden ringtone from her phone. She scoops it off her nightstand and silently reads the notification: “University of California Berkeley admissions has updated.” 

Taeb’s eyes widen and her heart pounds harder than ever before. She takes her laptop, runs downstairs and tells her family that “the email” has arrived. Everyone huddles around her on a sofa in the living room. Taeb’s mother reaches for her phone and records Taeb’s biggest moment. 

Taeb places her shaky hands on the laptop touchpad and finds the email from U.C. Berkeley. She takes a deep breath and quickly clicks it open. It becomes silent. Taeb’s mother stops recording, she looks at Taeb’s father and her smile turns into a frown. A tear rolls down Taeb’s cheek as she can only think of one word to describe the email she received from U.C. Berkeley: “rejected.” 

After the rejection, Taeb considered her options and applied to Los Medanos College with the goal of graduating in one year with grades phenomenal enough to transfer to her dream university in the fall of 2022. 

“The day after I was rejected, I realized that my only choice was to apply for community college, that’s what I needed to do so I might as well make the best of it and take advantage of the opportunities given to me,” she said. 

Through hard work and dedication, Taeb did finish LMC in a year, applied again to U.C. Berkeley and was recently accepted to her dream school. To anyone else, it seemed almost impossible for her to finish LMC in a year; it would be tons of work, but Taeb aimed her arrow and shot perfectly at the target. What motivated her to finish LMC so quickly? 

Taeb’s mother and her family immigrated from Afghanistan to America in 1985 after becoming refugees in Pakistan. Her mother’s family resided in San Leandro where they lived a traditional Afghan lifestyle where education is important but young marriages are normalized. 

“My mom got married super, super, super young,” said Taeb. “When she had gotten into UCLA, she wasn’t able to go because she was married and had to stay home and cook for her husband and be a young housewife.” 

Her mother also gave birth to Taeb at a young age, so both parents had to drop out of school to take care of her. For as long as she can remember, her mother and father treated education as a top priority due to this experience. 

Her mom ended up going back to school, earning a degree and becoming successful in  accounting. She pushed education on Taeb because she wanted her daughter to succeed early.

“My parents have always emphasized that I go to a good school, stay focused and do well in school so I won’t have to struggle as much as they did— they have initially done so much for me so it is the least I can do,” she said. 

Taeb said her parents’ stories inspired her to be the best in school and a switch inside her brain sparked as her educational journey began.

“My motivation is my parents and I do it for them,” she said. “But somewhere along the way, I am doing this for myself as well.” 

Taeb, now 18, spent the most of her life in Brentwood where she attended elementary, middle and high school. Her parents’ stories echoed through her head as she attended classes every day.

 She made sure to achieve the highest grades in each class and challenged herself to take advanced placement courses to prepare for college. She even took on extracurricular activities to interact with others and gain experience. 

Taeb ended up attaining a 4.3 grade point average and ranked No. 32 out of almost 700 students in her high school class. So why wouldn’t a scholar like Taeb get into her dream school? 

“Now that I look back, damn, I did not do enough,” she said. “Me being rejected from U.C. Berkeley motivated me to work harder, pay attention to school and do my research this time around.” 

Determined to try again, Taeb applied to LMC in the summer of 2021. As a result of her motivation in high school, seven of the 11 AP classes she took were eligible for college credit. In addition, she enrolled in three summer courses after graduation, including advanced composition, calculus and a coding class, all while maintaining a part-time job. She had about half the units she needed for transfer before the fall semester even began.

A now-relaxed Taeb sits with arms crossed as she reminisces about how difficult that summer was: “[The classes] were all 16 week courses that had to be slimmed down to six weeks. It was hella work dude, I didn’t leave the house for six weeks straight, it was horrible.” 

But Taeb stayed strong and finished all of her summer courses with straight A’s. She continued to pave her way through LMC, taking a total of 10 courses in the regular academic year, five in the fall and five in spring. Finishing LMC within a year is not easy. Taeb said she struggled to gain support from LMC counselors who did not believe she could complete LMC’s transfer courses in less than a year. 

Attending LMC wasn’t just an educational opportunity, I felt like I grew as a person and I also became closer to my family than ever before.”

— Nela Taeb

Taeb met with a counselor during the fall semester as she was registering for spring courses. The counselor advised her she was not going to be able to do well taking so many required classes and suggested she stay another year at LMC. 

Taeb knew her own abilities and didn’t let those words discourage her. She took it upon herself to research and apply for the spring classes she needed and then achieved all A’s.

After admission notices started arriving in April, Taeb was happy to announce she has been accepted to her dream school. She will be attending U.C. Berkeley in the fall of 2022 and major in data science. She not only emphasizes how rewarding it is to be accepted into her dream school, but also is grateful for the positive changes LMC made in her life. 

“Attending LMC wasn’t just an educational opportunity,” she said. “I felt like I grew as a person and I also became closer to my family than ever before.”

Despite the stress of trying to transfer in a year, Taeb appears just like any other freshman completing their first year at LMC. She dressed in a graphic-tee along with fitted dark blue jeans to match her dark blue oversized cardigan. She wears flashy silver jewelry to accentuate her look and shows off henna tattoos that cover her hands to represent her completion of Ramadan.

She likes reading books during her free time and her playlists consist of rap songs sung by her favorite artists. She enjoys telling silly jokes, hanging out with her friends when she has the time and she loves a good warm matcha latte from Starbucks on a cold day. But now, this freshman appears like any other sophomore looking forward to attending U.C. Berkeley as a junior in the fall.

Taeb is sitting comfortably, with legs crossed, as she speaks about her future at U.C. Berkeley.

“I am so excited to room with my roommates. We have been talking for the past couple of days on social media and we all have similar interests and want to join the same clubs,” she said. 

Despite all the hard work it took to finish community college in a year, Taeb plans to keep the same mindset she had at LMC and bring it with her to U.C. Berkeley. She is still in a hurry and now dreams of attending graduate school and becoming a successful woman in STEM.