Her Destiny: The English Language

PCCC Teacher and student in the Library

Spotlight on our Graduates

Fatima Jamal-Kanouni

Associate in Art Degree in Liberal Arts/English
Resides: Elmwood Park
H.S. Al-Huda High School -Paterson
GPA 3.8 A.A. in Liberal Arts/English
Phi Theta Kappa English Dept Award Nominee for Shea Award
Getting Honors Program Excellence Award – and is giving a speech at event   


At Age Four, She Heard Her Destiny

Fatima Kanouni recalls the first time she heard the English language. “I fell instantly in love,” she said.  She was only four years old and, along with her family, had just immigrated to the U.S. from Morocco.

“I wanted to learn English and speak it as beautifully as all the other Americans,” said Fatima.  Though her family spoke only their Darija dialect at home, the child rapidly mastered oral and written skills in her new language, without remedial classes, impressing her elementary schoolteachers. 

This week, Fatima will graduate from PCCC with her A.A. Degree in Liberal Arts/English.  A member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society, she is also the recipient of the 2013 English Department Award and the Honors Program Excellence Award.

Articulate and passionate, the Elmwood Park resident aspires to a dual career as a creative writer and an English teacher certified for special education ESL.  “I want to be a successful American story and help guide others to find their voice through the language I came to love so much.”

A graduate of a private school in Paterson, Fatima first entered PCCC in 2007, but struggled with health issues, insecurities about college, and a tendency to worry about her family.

The eldest of five sisters, she took a three-year break from school to find her direction and to work, so she could help her parents financially. 

“One day I had an epiphany,” said Fatima.  “I knew I could not go on working at these part-time jobs.  I was smart and a good writer, but I had to have a college degree to prove that to employers.”

Though Fatima returned to PCCC, she still struggled, often unable to sit through a class due to allergies and breathing difficulty, until a psychology course with Professor Andre Saygeh changed everything for her. 

The professor understood her issues and saved her a window seat at each class. “It worked,” said Fatima. “I was able to sit through the class and soon didn’t even need the window seat.”

“Professor Saygeh was so kind and patient,” she added.  “It was caring professors and administrators like him that made me love PCCC.”

Newly confident, Fatima joined the honors program, became active in the Student Government Association, and tutored other students.  “I learned that hard work can even improve your health and well-being,” she said. 

Other parts of her life improved, too.  Last year, while maintaining a heavy course load at PCCC, Fatima took on an interim leadership position at her office job and received accolades for her performance.

Her writing  -- poetry, fiction, and articles -- won recognition from faculty, particularly from her journalism instructor, Professor Christine Redmond-Waldeyer.  Fatima’s work was regularly published in Visions, the school newspaper, and she eventually became the managing editor. 

The fan of Tolstoy, Socrates, and Thomas Paine is also a vigorous advocate for a well-rounded education. “Writers should learn about a wide range of subjects,” said Fatima who appreciated her classes in philosophy, critical thinking, environmental science, and even math – once her nemesis.

Her enthusiasm for PCCC is boundless. “Make use of the facilities here,” she advises others. “Take advantage of the tutoring, the labs, and the wonderful professors.”

Apparently, her fervor is contagious.  Two of Fatima’s sisters are also enrolled at PCCC and one of them attended previously.   “My little sister is in eighth grade,” said Fatima, “but I hope she will come, too.”

Though the young woman says it will be “bittersweet to leave the school, peers, faculty, and professors I’ve come to love,” she is eager to continue her studies toward the bachelor’s degree.

A scholarship recipient, Fatima was accepted at three New Jersey colleges, but has not decided which she will attend next fall.

For now, her eye is on her PCCC diploma. “That will be my gift to my mom,” said Fatima.

Though her father earned an engineering degree in Morocco, her mother did not have many educational opportunities. 

 “I want the first degree earned by one of her daughters to honor the sacrifices she made for our education.”