Magdy Abdel Sayed ’15, the recipient of a Cambridge University prize (2008) as an Egyptian student who has “overcome the most” despite his disability, has graduated from The American University in Cairo (AUC) with a bachelor’s in journalism and mass communication, as well as media arts. At the University, he flourished as a student and was a source of inspiration to his peers. “Disability is lack of will, rather than physical limitation. Everyone can make a difference, if they are given a chance,” said Abdel Sayed, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was just 1 year old. “One of the most important things I learned at AUC is that education is not just about academics,” Abdel Sayed said. “It is about going beyond the limitations you put for yourself, which makes you find out who you really are and what your purpose in life is.” Active in a multitude of extracurricular activities, Abdel Sayed was a member of the Student Union, Cairo International Model Arab League and ENACTUS, an organization dedicated to charitable work for people lacking sustainable financial support in Egypt. He also worked with the First-Year Experience program for incoming freshmen and AIESEC, which helps students gain international experience by pairing them with internships abroad. “I learned a lot of things from the activities I joined that I would never have learned in the classroom,” Abdel Sayed said. “I also expanded my social circle and met the most amazing people anyone could ask for.”
Despite his participation in an array of activities, there is one organization that Abdel Sayed has maintained in-depth involvement with –– Helm, a student club and NGO that is dedicated to raising awareness of disability in Egypt and finding jobs for people with disabilities. After joining in December 2013, Abdel Sayed became Helm’s official spokesperson. “I performed opening speeches, providing background information on the organization, and worked to raise awareness of disabled populations in Egypt through focusing on social media for events,” he said, adamant that his relationship with Helm has informed his future goals.
Besides academics and community engagement, an internship with the popular radio station, Nile FM, made Abdel Sayed realize that he loves to “spread happiness through music.” He affirmed, “This passion for radio expanded into a bigger message when I joined Helm. I wanted to use the media to spread the NGO’s message.”
Abdel Sayed realized that the most efficient way to reach the masses is through studying media. His passion for mass media quickly blossomed, and he now asserts that his future goal is to have his own television program. “The main topic I want to shed light on is disability in Egypt,” he noted.
Due to his condition, Abdel Sayed’s road in life has not been easy. “It took me until I was 5 or 6 years old to begin moving independently,” he said. “I have had multiple corrective surgeries to aid in walking, but it is largely due to my perseverance, and the support of my parents, that I can do what I can today.”
In Abdel Sayed’s experience, many schools in Egypt are inaccessible to people with disabilities. “Lots of schools would not accept me because they did not have the facilities to accommodate me,” he reflected, adding that some schools emotionally mistreated him as a student.
But if there is one personal attribute that Abdel Sayed can attest to, it is perseverance. “Doctors said that I would never be able to read, write or speak, but my parents thought otherwise and successfully enrolled me in school, which is not easy in Egypt, considering my disability,” said Abdel Sayed who graduated from school with high honors. “Doctors also said I would never be able to walk without support. I believe walking with a support is better than not walking at all.”
After receiving the Cambridge award in 2008, Abdel Sayed was approached by many groups offering him jobs in journalism. Though the offers were tempting for Abdel Sayed, he made the decision to put his education first. “I was faced with the dilemma of focusing on academics or beginning my work in journalism,” he noted. “I decided that school was more important, even though the job offers were very good.”
Abdel Sayed is unrelenting in his contention that he has not had a loss because of cerebral palsy. “If I could go back in time and change my life, I wouldn’t change a thing,” he asserted. “I would want to be exactly as I am right now. This is my way of motivating other people. If I were normally walking around campus, there wouldn’t be something special for me to give to the community in Egypt. The knowledge I acquired and the experience I gained has shaped who I am and made me a better person. I believe that I experience everything just like everybody else. As a person with a disability, I can do anything I want in life.”