My Story: My best self

One of my first classes at the University of Washington Bothell was managerial economics with Dr. Xiahua (Anny) Wei, associate professor in the School of Business. The class was tough — and I was very happy about that.

Zumrad Makhkamova

Professor Wei was someone you could have a conversation with. She encouraged us to participate in the UW Bothell community instead of sitting at home watching Netflix. She gave us advice about careers and how to improve ourselves. She’d tell us, “You always strive to be your best self.”

It was clear she really cared. It was the first time I’ve ever felt like part of a community. And it was the first time I’ve been in such a supportive environment.

You see, my parents didn’t want me to be here. They didn’t want me to go to college.

I was born in Tajikistan, a strict Muslim country where women do not have a say. I grew up in Uzbekistan, which is more modern but not by much. At a young age, I was trained to do my brothers’ laundry and dishes while they went to play. It sounds sad to say these things, maybe even shocking. But it was normal, and I had to make the best of it.

I did well in school. I got better grades than my brothers. But my dad never said, “Good job.”

One day, when I was 10 years old, I wore shorts outside. Taliban groups in the area believed that wearing shorts is something a girl should never do. As I passed by, eight or nine boys shouted insults and threw rocks at me. My parents’ only response was to tell me, “Do not wear shorts outside.”

And that is the moment when I realized: This is not right. Being a girl does not mean I cannot do things.

When I was 12 — with help from a kind neighbor — my family filled out paperwork to come to the United States. It was a one-in-a-million shot. And we got it!

We moved to a small town in Ohio. Seventh and eighth grades were a blur. There were no translators, so I didn’t understand what the teachers said. I was sent to learn English with first-graders. I was so far behind, I had to relearn everything. Going above and beyond was not in my plans.

As I got close to finishing high school, I wanted to go to college. My dad wanted to send me back to Tajikistan to get married. But I knew that at age 18, in the United States, my parents could no longer tell me what to do. And I knew I could do better than their expectations.

First, I had to get away. So I joined the Navy. The pitch was “Travel the world!” I got stationed in Everett, Washington, and that’s why I’m here.

I got yelled at a lot in boot camp … for smiling too much. But I was having fun and feeling grateful.

For a year, I served in the honor guard, putting veterans to rest. My petty officer pushed me hard to lead the team, to take charge of everything for 160 funerals. It was the first time someone believed in me.

That’s when I really woke up and started to think, “Maybe I can do more. Maybe I can be a leader.”

After serving four years in the Navy, I took the tests to enroll in community college and found out I was at a ninth-grade level in math and reading. It was discouraging — and also motivating. I knew I could do this.

I loved my first quarter: relearning the English language, how to write an essay, how to divide fractions. A year later, I was taking calculus.

I had to take a lot of breaks from school, but with housing and child care costs for my 3-year-old son, work came first. One break lasted five years. Every time, my goal was to save up and go back. Finishing community college took me nearly 10 years, but I did it.

Initially, I studied engineering. Then I realized maybe I was just trying to prove something to my dad.

I always remembered American movies with these corporate women in business suits taking charge of the boardrooms. So I took classes in accounting and finance, and I loved it. It just made sense. There’s no formula like in calculus. In business, you have to use some creativity and put puzzle pieces together.

After community college, I found UW Bothell. I was impressed by the number of career options at the School of Business and the diversity on campus. UW Bothell offered students like me a lot of resources. I’m so grateful that my educational journey led me here.

Senior Zumrad Makhkamova speaking at the School of Business 2022 unGala
Senior Zumrad Makhkamova as a featured speaker at the School of Business 2022 unGala

At various points, people across campus would tell me, “You can lead. I think you’ll be a great fit for this position.” Self-doubt sometimes made me think, “Really? I don’t know where to start. I’ve never done anything like this.”

Then I’d remind myself, “I do have leadership experience. I was in charge of a naval ship’s store for 6,000 soldiers. I received an award for it.”

Sometimes it makes all the difference when somebody says, “I believe in you.”

UW Bothell is a place that makes you feel that people believe in you — your professors, your mentors, your fellow students.

And eventually, you learn to believe in yourself.

Zumrad Makhkamova is a senior in the School of Business, pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Accounting, with a minor in Computer Science & Software Engineering. She is president of the UW Bothell chapter of Beta Alpha Psi, an international honor society for accounting, finance and information systems students that helps students make professional connections, serve the community and be the best version of themselves. Next, Makhkamova is planning to do a summer internship in risk and financial advisory at Deloitte.

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