Published June 22, 2015

Champion of Change

May graduate Shaker honored at White House ceremony
  • Mariela Shaker, center, poses at the White House with filmmaker Chris Temple and producer Salam Darwaza, whose documentary “Salam Neighbor” examined the ordeal of Syrians living in a refuge camp.
Mariela Shaker, a 2015 graduate of Monmouth College, has been named a “Champion of Change” by President Barack Obama. On June 25, she was honored at a reception and participate in a panel at the White House in connection with World Refugee Day, which was commemorated on June 20.
 
An accomplished violinist, Shaker is being recognized for her example and work in using the power of music to highlight the cause of refugees from her native Syria and to provide a path to healing and reconciliation. The White House describes the Champions of Change as “ordinary Americans who are doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.  We invite Champions of Change to the White House to share their ideas to win the future.”
 
The June 25 event also built on the work of the White House Task Force on New Americans, which is focused on building welcoming communities and strengthening immigrant and refugee integration efforts.  The program, which will include nine other Champions of Change, will feature remarks by National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice and Cecilia Muñoz , director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. Samantha Powers, U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, is also scheduled to participate.
  
Shaker represented refugees from Syria and around the world in sharing ideas about how to deal with this unprecedented crisis. In a statement released by the White House, President Obama said that “World Refugee Day is a solemn occasion for the United States to join our partners in the international community in recognizing the dignity, value, and potential in every one of these lives.”
 
Born in 1990 in Aleppo, Syria, Shaker began playing the violin at the age of ten when she joined the Arabic Institute of Music in Aleppo. Her talent soon brought her to participate in many festivals and concerts in Syria and across the Middle East. Shaker taught the violin for five years at the Arabic Institute of Music. In 2011, she gave a live audition in London, and subsequently received an offer to complete her music studies in the Trinity Laban Conservatoire for Music. In 2013, Shaker received a scholarship to attend Monmouth College, earning a bachelor’s degree in music performance. She successfully applied for asylum in the United States because she is unable to return to her native country, where her family still resides, living amidst the tragedy of the Syrian civil war.
 
One of 18 Syrian students on Monmouth’s campus during the past academic year, Shaker is an extraordinary example of that goal. She said, “There are ambitious students in Syria who have lost hope – lost everything.  Rebuilding the infrastructure is just one thing that can be done with our hands, but rebuilding the humanity and deconstructing the antagonism from the minds of the people is another thing that should be done with our hearts. I left my home in Syria because of the war. It is here in the United States that my life has begun.”
 
On June 20, Shaker performed to a standing-room only audience at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., where she was invited to appear by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees.  In introducing Shaker, Monmouth College president Clarence Wyatt said, “Mariela’s life is a powerful story of the triumph of dignity over despair, of hope over hatred, and of compassion over conflict. Her commitment to use her talent as a musician and the grace of her character to heal the wounds of war and oppression, to ‘think anew and act anew’ in the face of this crisis, does honor to the highest values of Monmouth College, and we are deeply proud of her.”
 
Shaker’s June 20 performance can be viewed on the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage website at www.kennedy-center.org/programs/millennium.
 
To learn more about the White House Champions of Change program, visit www.whitehouse.gov/champions. Follow the conversation at #WHChamps.
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