You Are Meant To Be Here, Graduating Law Student Nimrah Khan ’18 Says

One of The First Women in Her Community to Leave Home for Education, Khan Guides Other Girls and Women
Nimrah Khan ’18

“I tell other girls, ‘Do what’s best for you. Don’t put boundaries on yourself for any reason,’” said Nimrah Khan ’18. Photo by Ian Bradshaw

May 16, 2018

Nimrah Khan entered Stanford University as an undergraduate in 2009. Traveling 2,500 miles away from her Mount Vernon, Virginia, home to pursue an education wasn’t something young women in her Pakistani-immigrant community normally did.

“Back then, nobody in my community let their daughters go that far,” said Khan, a first-generation U.S. citizen and the only daughter in her family. “Unmarried girls aren’t supposed to go and live on their own. That’s not what good Pakistani girls do.”

Ignoring initial criticism from some community members, and with her parents’ support, Khan thrived at Stanford and graduated in 2013 with a bachelor’s in classical and ancient studies.

She then set her sights on law school.

Khan, who graduates from the University of Virginia School of Law on Sunday, used her time here not only to prove to herself what she was capable of, but to pave the way for others like her.

She will be the first in her family to have attended college, much less graduate school.

“I want to use everything I learned and pass it along,” she said. “Whenever I see a South Asian woman partner, I’m crazy-inspired. Someday, if I make partner at my firm, I could do the same for others.”

Khan served on the editorial board of the Virginia Law Review, was vice president of Women of Color, and served as a board member for West Coast Wahoos and the Muslim Law Student Association.  

She also co-founded a new group, the South Asian Law Student Association.

Khan and classmate Maya Iyyani ’18 founded SALSA after their first year to provide educational, professional, cultural and social programs to support other South Asian students.

“Maya and I worked on it all summer, and we had our very first SALSA career panel that October with people from public service, lawyers from big firms and even Professor [Aditya] Bamzai.”

Khan said their aspiration was “to help other students feel like they're meant to be here, they’re supposed to be here, and they can succeed here.”

In addition, Khan encouraged classmates of all backgrounds to feel confident in their abilities, and met with fellow students to share outlines, study advice and tips for navigating law school.

She provided outreach to pre-law and younger students as well.

“I know how hard it is to figure out college applications or [on-Grounds interviews] or understand what your LSAT scores mean when your parents didn’t go to college,” Khan said.

While working in California before law school, Khan volunteered with an organization that placed her in a low-income elementary school classroom.

“I think it’s really fun for kids to see someone who looks like them take a leadership role,” Khan said. “They hear that I’m in law school and work for a big company. A little light comes on in their eyes like, ‘Oh, I could do that too!’”

Despite not having role models in the legal field when she was growing up, Khan realized when she was a young teen that she wanted to fight discrimination, and decided the best way to do that was to become a lawyer.

She became a straight-A student, and it was then that she won the support of her father, M. Abad Khan, regarding her higher-education planning. He asked her to research the top-10 undergraduate institutions in the U.S.

“I showed him the list and he said, ‘You’re going to go to one of those,’” Khan said. “That moment changed my entire life. It just cracked open my whole world.”

The first time Khan came home after starting at Stanford she was asked to help a friend’s daughter prepare for college. The next time she came home, the same thing happened. Khan connected with more and more young women as time went on.

Always happy to offer practical advice where she had none, Khan has now mentored over 25 young women from her community, with her mother, Tahira, helping to recruit those who might need guidance.

“Nine times out of 10, I don’t even know these girls, but they’ve heard of me and how I went to school with my parents’ support,” Khan said.

Her advice to them: “Do what’s best for you. Don’t put boundaries on yourself for any reason.”  

In the past 10 years, Khan has noted a distinctive shift in her community, with more women of Pakistani descent now attending schools across the country, she said.

“Leaving for college caused ripples and waves in ways I never expected,” Khan said. “It makes me feel so grateful for my experiences and past challenges because it allows me to use those experiences to help girls who have society stacked against them.”

Reflecting back on the long journey toward becoming a lawyer, Khan noted the sacrifices her parents made.

“They broke away from their cultural norms to support my education, but they still held on to our heritage,” Khan said.

After graduation, Khan will practice corporate law at Latham & Watkins in San Francisco. She hopes to continue to help other young women and students strive for cultural inclusion in the legal profession.

“UVA Law gave me a place to prove to myself that I’m smart and capable, and that’s something I’m going to carry with me for the rest of my life and instill in other women of color.”

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