Personal Essay: Oussama Oudani ’20​

Writing Prompt: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.​

My name is Oussama. Yes, it is pronounced Osama. Growing up with this name, especially post 9-11, was not easy. Although it’s spelled differently, the reaction produced is still the same. I will always remember the painful first days of every new school year, but I particularly recall my first day of eighth grade. I dreaded morning attendance. As the teacher moved down her roster, past the L’s and the M’s, my heart thumped furiously. With the O’s looming closer, I wanted to grow smaller. When she got to my name, she paused for what seemed like an eternity. A look of confusion crossed her face, and then her mouth writhed in a feeble attempt to say my name: Oussama Ouadani. I meekly mumbled a “here.” Shocked, all of the students swiveled in their seats to gawk at me, and a few muffled snickers arose from the edges of the class. Eyes probed my Algerian features, and I sat with cheeks ablaze, wondering what they made of me. I remember going home and crying, wishing that I had a “normal” name, or at the least, a middle name I could use. It became so unbearable that I even questioned my parents’ choice to name me Oussama. Looking back, I realize that these awkward days of school have revealed a great deal to me about human nature.

My name in Arabic means the lion, the brave. To others, I’ve found out, it may mean a whole host of things. I work at Staples, where I wear a name badge that openly states who I am. I get different reactions to it each day. Some people get nervous as a result of my nametag. They glance at it surreptitiously, and then delicately look back at me. Some people are more blatant about it and stare, shamelessly, at my nametag. Some question it, curious about its pronunciation and its roots. Some try to sympathize with the troubles my name has brought me. But then there are those, a very select few, who simply call me “Oussama.” Even though it is such a basic form of respect, it always catches me off guard. It makes me feel normal. I don’t want people to be afraid of my name, or falsely sympathize with me. I simply wish to be me.

Although my name has been an object of hardship, it has also been my greatest teacher. It has put me in positions characterized by emotions ranging from irritation to humiliation. However, I believe these situations have served as the catalyst for my growth in character, and as result, I am a more resilient person. The fact that I no longer want to change my name proves this. My name also acts as a portal through which I can empathize with others. I grasp what it means to truly respect someone, to the core, so they feel important. I appreciate what it means to feel ostracized. I know what it’s like to be shamed by others, and how it feels to reject your own name, your sole identifier, your individuality. Being laughed at has taught me not to laugh at others. Being shunned has taught me to open my arms to others. Being pitied, I’ve learned not to pity others. I try my best to consider the struggles of others, and why their actions and words may be the product of a storied past. I sympathize with the shy, the loud, and the attention seekers. It has allowed me to acknowledge that potentially everyone has a secret fear or personal struggle that I might not know about. My name is an integral component of who I am, for not only does it reflect my cultural heritage and lend me a visionary quality, but it also represents an eternal gift from my parents.