Motivated Moududur

Senior Moududur Rahman opens up about moving halfway around the world and discovering himself.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Senior and amateur chef Moududur Rahman moved to the United States from rural Bangladesh when he was only seven years old. His father had been granted a work visa in the United States in 1998, and during this time, he extensively traveled back and forth between Bangladesh and the U.S. to keep in contact with both his family and his job. He eventually earned enough money to bring his family overseas so they could take advantage of the open job market and better educational opportunities.

Rahman’s life in Bangladesh was filled with fun, friends, and adventure. He lived with his grandparents most of the time. At his grandparents’ house, he and his cousins would race to the lake nearby to cool off as often as they could. Additionally, there was a jungle behind his own home where he and his friends would meet to “tame the jungle” at six years old. “We tried our best to make our own path,” Rahman said. “That was really fun. I ended up getting my ankle twisted all the time, [though].”

While Rahman’s pursuits in Bangladesh were certainly galvanizing, he was excited about the prospect of moving to this new country. “When we used to think of America, you think of LeBron James and hamburgers,” he said. The young Rahman had big plans: “I remember very distinctly that I really wanted to be LeBron James.” Now, more than 10 years later, Rahman is scoring three-pointers in programming instead of basketball.

When he entered the American public school system, Rahman struggled to fit in because of the language barrier. In Bangladesh, he was used to being treated by adults as a well-spoken member of society. In America, however, he was regarded differently. “I was just some immigrant kid who didn't know English anymore, and people would treat me like I was stupid. It was so fundamentally infuriating that I became a bully,” he remembered.

Around his preteen years, Rahman came to a noteworthy conclusion. “Eventually, something clicked in me, and I realized that I shouldn't be beating people up anymore,” he admitted. “[In the fifth grade], I realized I was having a lot more fun being nice to people.”

In addition to making his classroom a safer place, this paradigm shift in thought had other positive consequences, too. He was able to spend quality time with his peers-turned-friends. Because he spent more time with his peers, his English-language skills improved, and he lost his Bengali accent. Most notably, he met his best friend Elva.

Rahman decided to apply to Stuyvesant High School for one reason only: because of the uniquely high level of instruction in the computer science department. When the College Board was still developing its computer science curriculum, there were two levels of instruction. The higher level, AP Computer Science AB, was deemed so difficult that it was phased out in every school—except Stuyvesant. In a school full of intellectual risk-takers, Rahman had no problem finding role models and fitting in.

In particular, he finds inspiration in computer science teacher Peter Brooks, whom he would like to emulate. “He has this attitude of just being over it,” said Rahman, as if he’s seen all the problems. If there’s one he hasn’t encountered yet, he’s probably seen something like it before. Brooks emphasizes the value that “there's no point in over-engineering a solution when what you have now works just as well,” Rahman said. Rahman brings this attitude to aspects of his life other than programming, such as cooking.

Rahman taught himself how to cook the summer before his sophomore year. Inspired by his incredibly varied diet of rice and side dishes or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Rahman whipped himself an omelet in the spring of his freshman year. “It was disgusting,” he recalled. “It was so bad. It was burnt, the cheese wasn't fully melted, and there were eggshells in it.” As he was raised not to waste food, he had every last bite. Scarfing down his horrible omelet gave him the raging drive to perfect the art of omelet-cooking: “I just kept making omelets every single day for three months straight.” Now, his omelets are cooked to perfection: “I can make you a French omelet. Runny inside, tender outside—the entire shebang in two minutes.”

Rahman extended his cooking capabilities to other dishes that extended all over the world. He made it a habit to focus on the techniques of different regions of the world and imitate their styles until he felt comfortable with them. He has gained enough confidence in his skills that he is able to judge for himself what should go in a recipe. “I've tried to bring Mr. Brooks’s attitude when I'm cooking. It's less about following recipes to the exact detail and more about ‘sure, put this in there,’” he said.

Ultimately, Rahman is most thankful for the people around him. At Stuyvesant, he finds that the students and the staff are more emotionally charged and empathetic than anywhere he’s ever been. “It's still the people that I really come back to. There's a lot of empathy going on,” he acknowledged. “That's something I vibe with very heavily.