08:24 AM

UHCL commencement speaker: 'Slow down, it's not just about education'

Hiba Loya

At 20 years old, Hiba Loya might be on the young side to graduate from college, much less enroll in law school. She started her college career at University of Houston-Clear Lake at age 15, but she's leaving with a lot more than a Bachelor of Science in Management.

She will be sharing what she learned along her academic journey, which began as one of the youngest students in the university, in her spring 2022 UH-Clear Lake commencement address, to be held Saturday, May 14 at NRG Arena.

"I did kindergarten in Pakistan and came here already a year ahead," she said. "I took high school classes in 8th grade, doubled up classes in 10th grade, took classes at San Jacinto College, and was just always ahead. I did this to myself- no one pressured me; my parents supported me. I just didn't place any value on being a teenager. I thought it was kind of a useless part of life, so I went ahead and did everything, because I could."

In hindsight, she said, she would not make the same choices.;

"My older brother went to medical school and I wanted to compete with him," she said. "I didn't think about any consequences. High school just wasn't hard, but now I realize, it's not supposed to be hard. You're supposed to also be growing as a person, but I skipped the personal growth part and jumped straight into college. I later realized, you're supposed to grow with your peer group."

She graduated from Iman Academy Southeast and found herself in an adult environment that she wasn't completely prepared for. "I wasn't even old enough to have my driver's license," she said. "My mom was dropping me off for classes. I was still at the age where my mom would take my phone away if I was in trouble. It all worked out in the end for me, and I do feel like I have a head start in some ways, but more than anything, I learned that everything has its own time and pace and it's not necessary to rush things."

Now she finally feels as though she's able to apply her own advice to herself. "I was studying for the LSAT and stressing about graduating because I wanted to be done in four years, but this is my fifth year," she said. "I wanted to be done by age 19- just some arbitrary goal I set that didn't matter, but the best decision I made was to spend more time in college. I pushed graduation back. I'm still young. It gave me time to focus on my LSAT and not overwhelm myself."

She recognized an intense personal need to accomplish everything right away, but she's finally realized she can let that go. "I'm graduating after five years, but I enjoyed my classes more, focused more, and I couldn't have done that if I had overloaded myself with classes," she said.

Although she's grateful for her experiences, she does feel she missed out on important parts of her childhood and recommends others don't follow suit. Ultimately, Loya believes her life experience is what has fueled her passion for law.

"I did a corporate project with the DePelchin Children's Center, which provides legal advocacy for foster youth. There's a small part of me that relates to kids who have to grow up too fast and feel thrown into an adult world, while not being taken seriously because of their age," she explained.

"I feel for those kids, and I want to work on public policy reform in child welfare and make sure we are not robbing people of their childhood. The moment I knew I couldn't just be an idle bystander was when I learned about the national foster-care-to-prison pipeline," she said.

"I've faced many challenges being significantly younger than anyone around me, but I cannot imagine the fractured mental well-being caused by incarceration at such a young age," she continued. "I can empathize with feeling like you must take on the world by yourself, but somewhere along the way my family became my biggest support system, and they are the only reason I am alive right now. I want to work with nonprofits to be the support foster youth so desperately need."

She believes that is the reason why she went through her academic journey in such a non-traditional way. "If there's something good that came out of all this, it's that it fueled my passion to become a child's legal advocate," she said. "I can't imagine how tough it must be to grow up with such little support. This is my law school personal statement story- my unique perspective on life by starting college at 15 and how it has fueled my passion to make a difference."

Loya will be attending the University of Houston Law Center in the fall and said as a lawyer, she wants to develop long-term solutions, negotiate court-enforceable plans, and transform how child welfare agencies treat children.

"Talking about not rushing might sound funny coming from a 20-year-old college graduate," she said. "But this is my best advice. There are moments of happiness and if you don't take your time, you'll miss them. Grades aren't everything- there are other things that are equally important, like friendships and character development. College is the time for those things. Don't rush that.

For more information about UHCL's commencement, go online.