Like many Saudi Arabians, UCLA graduating senior Manal Quota grew up living a comfortable life of privilege with maids and chauffeurs to do her bidding. That's why she couldn't believe her eyes when she started attending high school in Egypt.
"In Cairo there was such a distinction between the wealthy and poor," says Quota, 20. "You'd see mud shacks without glass in the windows and small rooms that would house a family of four or more. It really struck me as unfair and made me reexamine the life I was leading."
That path of examination ultimately led her to UCLA where, as a transfer student, she earned honors for her achievements in community service, research and scholarship. Quota, who grew up in Jeddah but has lived in Egypt, Bahrain and elsewhere in the United States, was the student graduation speaker at the College of Letters and Science commencement June 16.
"Manal brought to UCLA an enormous spirit, and her accomplishments are extraordinary," says Marc Mayerson, assistant dean of social sciences. "She is truly an international citizen and scholar. In her, we see the best of our common cause and humanity."
As a UCLA student, Quota extended her world far beyond the bounds of Westwood. She tutored a second-grader in Watts and worked with underprivileged children in Burbank. She joined another student activist in putting together a two-day exploration of human trafficking for 50 undergraduate-level students from universities across California. She interned with Amnesty International and volunteered with UNICEF. She also participated in the Bruin Leaders Project, a student-run leadership training group on campus.
The youngest child of an accounting professor and a housewife who still live in Saudi Arabia, Quota graduated with honors from UCLA's Honors Collegium; a Chancellor's Service Award for exemplary community service; and a Vice Provost's Recognition Award for Undergraduate Research Participation. She also received a certificate of special recognition from Rep. Brad Sherman (D-San Fernando Valley), an alumnus.
The name "Manal" roughly translates from Arabic as "when a person wishes for something and gets it." "In my culture, we believe that the name your parents give you forms part of your personality," Quota explains. "Getting what you want is 'The Manal,' which is interesting. I think there's a little of me in that."
Quota plans to work for a year in her homeland and then to study international development or international affairs at the graduate level with the ultimate goal of landing a position in a nongovernmental organization.