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Queen Mary Alumni

Alumni profile - Hani Garabyare

(Public Policy MSc, 2010)

Hani Garabyare was a child refugee who became the first Somali-American woman ever to work in the United States Senate and the first of two Somali-American women to receive a White House political appointment. In her alumni profile, Hani shares the lessons she’s learned through her personal and professional experiences and her advice to anyone pursuing higher education.


Photo of Hani Garabyare - she is holding the neck of her black rollneck jumper around the edges of her face and the photo has been taken against a black backdrop.

Could you tell us about your journey to Queen Mary? Why did you choose to study an MSc in Public Policy?  

I was initially planning to go to Law school after graduating college as it was something I’ve always wanted to do. I decided instead to go to graduate school in London. I wanted to rebuild a connection with some of my siblings who lived there who I had been displaced from due to the civil war in my home country, Somalia. One of my sisters, who had a great hand in helping raise me, recently had a daughter and named her after me; I took that as a sign to take the leap. Public Policy was something I found interesting, especially given my interest in politics, particularly around how to develop and implement policy solutions and create lasting change. Public policy when used correctly can have tremendous and positive impact. When I was applying, I did extensive research, and Queen Mary’s lecturers and professors were esteemed, well-known and respected in their field. They authored books on their subjects of expertise and were respected not only at Queen Mary, but globally. 

Queen Mary introduced me to so many like-minded people who wanted to change the world and thought of the freedom of others as much as their own freedom and that is a rarity in a world that can sometimes teach us to be self-concerned and not egalitarian. 

What did you enjoy most about your degree and your time at Queen Mary in general? 

I enjoyed how Queen Mary was communal. There was always a sense of community and belonging. As an international student, I never felt like an outsider, and I think that’s a wonderful environment to create as an institution. There were activities and events happening that allowed students to expand their minds and connect with those they may not interact with normally. When I moved to Washington D.C. after graduating from Queen Mary, I had this running joke that I could travel anywhere in the world, and I had a friend there. In many cases that has been true. I made lifelong friends at Queen Mary. The student body was made up of brilliant, thoughtful, and committed young people.  

Queen Mary introduced me to so many like-minded people who wanted to change the world and thought of the freedom of others as much as their own freedom and that is a rarity in a world that can sometimes teach us to be self-concerned and not egalitarian. The educators were incredibly knowledgeable, but also did not assert themselves to sway your views to align with theirs. They allowed us to expand our own thoughts and defend them, and that is incredibly important in an educational setting and for educational development. 

There were various subjects students could take that were out of our own discipline and that played an instrumental part in my life after leaving Queen Mary. Being able to discuss economics, public policy, theory, philosophy, political thought, allowed me to navigate in different rooms outside of the classroom and be able to discuss varying topics with expertise and knowledge. 

What do you love most about what you do and what achievements are you most proud of? 

I have enjoyed meeting so many people of different backgrounds whose mission in life has been to be of service to humanity. I helped draft legislation, pass legislation and resolutions, spearheaded movements on Capitol Hill that became global, I had Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is one of the most powerful and respected people in the world, stand next to me as I spoke loudly against injustices young women face in Africa. During my years in public service, I met and interacted with other incredibly powerful and influential people. But what I am most proud of is that I was able to meet and engage with honest, bright, kind, young people from all walks of life – whether they were my interns, those I mentored, or simply those who would write to me or stop by my office to discuss their life plans. They were very optimistic about their place in the world and what they could do to become better citizens and help create a society that works well for everyone, not just the few. Whenever I think of them, I get emotional, and it allows me to remain hopeful of the future. 

We originally started communicating in relation to World Refugee Day which is marked annually on 20 June to celebrate the strength and courage of people who have been forced to flee their home country and to build empathy and understanding for their plight and the resilience they show in rebuilding their lives. Can you describe your personal connection to this important day?  

Being a refugee was my first introduction to the world. I was able to witness undeniable cruelty but also undeniable mercy that exists in society. That introduction made me realise at a very young age who I wanted to be in this world: A force for good. There are currently 28 million refugees worldwide. We often look at the circumstances of refugees through the lens of data, but I think we need to look at it through the lens of empathy. No one chooses to flee, and refugees are uniquely positioned because we’ve been forced to leave the only home we’ve known — not in pursuit of education or money, but of safety and the need to belong.  
As soon as I was able to comprehend the world outside of myself, I was squarely in the middle of a demoralising civil war. The road to freedom was by boats, by foot, by a shaky helicopter and that feeling of unsafety and fear can be a catalyst to how one can orient oneself in the world. When I would take meetings on Capitol Hill, or do panel discussions, I was always asked about what it meant to be a refugee and if it impacted me negatively. And I have always reminded people that being a refugee made me who I am, instead of taking away from who I was supposed to be. 

While I do have incredibly loving parents who instilled in me great values, being a child of war gave me a sense of purpose. I have an endless supply of empathy, I treat people, regardless of their status, as worthy and important. I remember the first time my best friend visited me when I worked on Capitol Hill, she told me how she found joy in seeing that I knew the names of all the service workers and Capitol police. And years later, those people would be the ones who were greatly affected by the events that took place in the Capitol during and after the January 6 insurrection. I think that’s what matters the most, not just the people who can help you get your next job, but to connect with people – everyone has a story. Being a refugee, I was able to gain an advanced degree in human nature.  

Why do you think everyone around the world should have the right to seek safety? 

I remember as a young girl looking at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and being drawn to the word “safety.” As a child of war, the feeling of safety and security has always been incredibly important to the way I navigate the world. Safety is a human right, and everyone deserves the right to seek safety regardless of who they are or where they come from. Refugees defy impossible odds in the pursuit of safety.  

People often forget that becoming a refugee can happen to anyone at any given time. It’s not impossible. For instance, my parents who were both essentially orphans worked hard in an incredibly unforgiving and challenging country to provide and give their children the lives they never had only to then become refugees in an instant, seeking safety from war. They never imagined that they would be displaced from some of their children or would have to start over again in a different country. It’s important for people to seek empathy and understanding when it comes to any migration story.  

How have the opportunities you’ve had in life, such as pursuing a degree at Queen Mary and embarking on an impressive career, changed your life for the better? 

Both my educational and career pursuits at a young age provided me with many opportunities and I’ve had the incredible pleasure of meeting and interacting with some of the most powerful, respected, and influential people in the world. But none of those things would be possible without my parents and the values they instilled in me.  

I remember as a young girl, the first time I ever saw a television, it was Nelson Mandela’s inauguration speech. I believe it was a seminal event in my life. Injustice is a universal language and I realised injustice, while not in the same vein as his, was inescapable, and the journey to justice is long and relentless, but it is possible.  

An education and career can only take someone so far. Integrity, care, compassion and love must also be the driving force. I’ve often lost opportunities because I stood up against wrongdoing not only for myself but for others or stayed clear from opportunities that did not align with me morally. I am the aunt to many children, some that are currently coming of age, during a challenging time, where chaos and injustice are prevalent. I always remind them to do what they love, but to also be mindful that there will be pitfalls they will come across. So, it is important to always stand firm in their beliefs and do something that not only benefits them, but also others. Life is more magnificent and far more beautiful when you realise you’ve not only helped yourself, your family, but impacted someone else's life as well and made them feel seen, respected, and cherished, regardless of their status or position. 

If you could tell prospective Queen Mary students anything, what would it be?  

It is important to have a fulfilling experience. When I embarked on going to London, I was intentional about what type of experience I wanted to have and how I could be of service. I wanted to see what London had to offer. Queen Mary has wonderful libraries, but I went to other libraries as well. I cannot stress this enough; education cannot only be in the classroom. Learning is by experiencing people, places, and ideas. 

I volunteered for political campaigns, knocked on doors of people I normally would not come across in my hometown. I did internships teaching BAME communities how to use their capacity and engage and participate in their local levels of government, I went to events on and off campus, and put together study groups with classmates.  

I would tell students not to waste their time, get out there, study and be well prepared, but also have stories and experiences you can share a decade from now. And don’t forget to find ways in which you can be of service to other people. There are many people in London, especially in parts of East London, where Queen Mary is located, that is vastly different from the rest of London – have you stopped by any of the non-profits to see what they need help with? Connect with those people, find out their story, and see what you can do to help them. You don’t need to be a politician, be in politics, or even major in political education to lend a helping hand. We are all connected, we are all valuable, and we all need each other.  



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