Living Life to My Utmost Potential

M.A. in Political Science, European Union Policy Studies

By Mo Al Tayara

At 57 years old, I can be called anything but a typical graduate student. Looking back at my life, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine myself sitting where I am today, at JMU’s Palazzo Capponi in Florence, Italy. Born in 1964 in Beirut, Lebanon, my life soon took a strange turn when the civil war erupted in 1975. By the time the war was over I was 29 years old with a college degree and plenty of hopes and dreams. My decision to move to the U.S. was in pursuit of the American Dream and a better future for myself and my future family.

Fast forward to 2015 when I made the move with my wife and son to Virginia, only to soon be diagnosed with kidney cancer. My doctor informed me of the aggressive nature of my tumor, giving me a 50:50 chance of making it out of the surgery room alive. I was advised to “plan accordingly”, in other words, go home and plan for your funeral. When I opened my eyes in the recovery room, I was overwhelmed with the mixed feelings of pain and gracious thankfulness. At that moment I made up my mind to live life to the fullest. After all, how many people can say they had a real second chance in life?

Only one week into my post-surgery recovery I was logged onto my computer and applying to Blue Ridge Community College (BRCC) in Weyers Cave, Virginia. One of my dreams has always been to pursue higher education all the way to the doctoral level. To be honest, it was hard to sit in a classroom surrounded by a much younger generation. The idea of dropping out came across my mind so many times, until one day I met a professor who told me that she received her graduate degree from JMU at the age of 65. Her words silenced any doubts inside my brain. Fast forward two years later and I was one of only 2 students graduating from BRCC with Honors. This is when I moved to James Madison University to earn my bachelor’s degree. 

In May 2021 I completed my undergraduate studies at JMU with Latin Honors and a B.A. in International Affairs with a concentration in International Conflict and Security. My two minors in Political Science and Honors Interdisciplinary Studies were the icing on the cake. During my senior year at JMU, I was accepted to the Washington Semester Program where I learned that securing a good job requires distinguishing yourself from the crowd. Being fluent in 2 foreign languages would make a difference, but I knew I was still in need of something bigger. 

They say opportunity knocks on your door; this is how I explain my brief conversation with Professor Charles Blake one day in the hallway of Miller Hall. That was the first time I learned about the EUPS Program and I knew at that moment that this was the big thing I was missing. The EUPS Program answered that nagging question I still had unanswered: how will I set myself apart? 

A graduate degree in Political Science with a specialization in European Union Policy Studies will give you this edge over other applicants in Washington D.C, and finishing graduate studies in under a year is an undeniable bonus, especially for someone my age. Those beliefs were reinforced the moment I arrived at the JMU facilities in Florence. The exposure to a different culture, the general atmosphere, the staff, my cohort but mostly my professors, the wide range of challenging topics, and the personal interaction with high-ranking European Union officials confirmed that I made the right decision by applying to the EUPS program.

When I made that decision to live my life to the fullest, I had no idea it would lead me to a day where I would sit down and write these words. Struggling with a cancer diagnosis in addition to several other chronic medical conditions, my advanced age, and my family situation all had the potential ability to crush my dreams of pursuing a higher degree. I had to decide that I would  not allow circumstances to dictate my life and to live my life not only to the fullest, but to my utmost potential. The limit for my dreams is the sky, but I always make sure my feet are standing on solid ground. The EUPS Program is meant for people who believe in themselves and their potential, those who are looking for something bigger, those who are looking to distinguish themselves from the crowd.

Mo Al Tayara is an EUPS student pursuing the Foreign Policy and Internal Security track. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs, with an Internal Conflict and Security concentration and minors in Political Science and Honors Interdisciplinary Studies from JMU this May. After graduation, Mo plans to fulfill his dream of pursuing a PhD.

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Published: Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023

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