Omar Abboud, SEAS ’16, has the mildly amazing ability to deliver his answers to my questions in fully formed monologues. Seven minutes into our interview and Abboud was animatedly explaining to me the cosmology of the Columbia bureaucracy—the students being the Earth, Lee Bollinger being heaven, and things like Multicultural Affairs being “closer to Earth.”
“I think Columbia should just hire consultants to come and, like, overhaul the entire process,” he concluded cheerfully.
Abboud’s family hails from Lebanon and he attended school in Toronto. Omar credits his grandfather, a Palestinian refugee, with instilling in him the understanding of “education as a means to freedom, education as a means to success, education as something that could never be taken from me,” a view that Abboud believes may have been “part of why I perhaps strived for something like Columbia.”
Despite his complaints about bureaucratic inefficiency, Abboud says that he views Columbia more positively than most. Going here has given Abboud the chance to pursue his eclectic range of interests. In addition to his major in Operations Research, Abboud “kind of completed a concentration in Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies,” simply by taking classes that were interesting to him.
“I have this reputation in the MESAAS department as this weird engineer who comes and disrupts everything,” he says, and jokingly complains that he was “ruined” by “the epistemology of MESAAS.” “Now every single thing that happens in the world seems like it kind of boils down modernity leading to the invention of the European, the European conception of himself and, as a result, the European conception of the other, and in terms of this relationship we can define every other phenomenon that has happened since the late nineteenth century.”
Abboud’s passion for the Middle East extends beyond academics. According to Abboud, he has spent much of his time on campus “putting the Arab community on the map,” in his role as president of Turath, the Arab students association. Abboud has also served as Director-General of the Columbia Model United Nations Conference and Exposition, and chair of the Arab and Middle Eastern Tree of the Columbia Mentoring Initiative. Last year, he received a King’s Crown Leadership Excellence Awards in the “Indelible Mark” category.
“Omar basically made Turath what it is today,” says Nadine Talaat, CC ’17, Conference Coordinator for CIRCA. According to Talaat, when she first joined Turath, events were held sparsely and attendance was “weak.”
“Omar just took it to a whole new level. We became a proper functioning club and a place [where] Arab students can feel welcome, they have a place that represents them.”
Abboud always manages to “have a positive outlook on things,” despite his many commitments. According to Talaat, he doesn’t take himself too seriously, and is one of those people “you can’t be around him and not be laughing.”
A dedicated pianist and self described music nerd who credits Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” as having a “huge, huge influence in my life,” Abboud has had the opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall twice since coming to campus, an experience Abboud says “couldn’t have happened in any other school in any other city and for which I am extremely grateful.” Performing, for Abboud, is “sheer joy.”
“Personally I think that there is in fact nothing more important in life than being able to express yourself. If I help someone do that, then there is in fact nothing more I could be proud of.”