When he was asked to present the first-ever doctoral address at Clemson University, Tanin Haidary didn’t search very long for his topic.
He’d pay tribute to his parents who, he said, “sacrificed their careers and everything for me and my siblings.”
Haidary, who was receiving his Ph.D. in Planning, Design, and the Built Environment, faced an audience of 84 graduating doctoral students and hundreds of family members in early May at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena.
Striving to control what he called his “stage phobia,” Haidary spoke in an emotion-laden voice about growing up as a refugee in Pakistan and about a family with a fierce devotion to education.
Haidary was born in Afghanistan but his family moved to Pakistan when the Afghan Civil War erupted. There, the family shared a two-bedroom apartment of nine people.
“The choice to migrate to Pakistan was about surviving, not necessarily about searching for a better future,” Haidary said. “But the challenges of providing security and food for our family brought out the best in my parents.”
His father had been a base commander in the military in Afghanistan, but in Pakistan the only job he could find was fixing TVs.
His mother, who had been a doctor in Afghanistan, was allowed to provide health care in Pakistan only to other refugees.
“They could barely make a living, no matter how hard they worked,” Haidary said. “New shoes and a good dinner once a year at the end of Ramadan were the only luxuries my siblings and I would get. For my parents, their only luxuries were the smiles on our faces.”
Despite their struggles, Haidary’s parents kept their eyes on the prize: the best possible education for their children.
“I remember them not buying clothes for themselves for years just so they could send us to school, which was not free in Pakistan,” Haidary said. “My father would come home at 9 p.m. and wake up my brother and me and work on homework with us for hours. My parents believed education was the key to get out of this situation.”
Pakistan to Afghanistan to Clemson
When Haidary was 10 years old, his family was able to return to Afghanistan. The family’s devotion to education paid off: Haidary eventually secured a spot at the highly competitive Kabul University, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 2012.
Haidary worked for four years in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, helping to build military bases.
In 2016, however, came the opportunity of a lifetime: Haidary earned a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to further his studies in the United States.
He headed straight for Clemson University and its highly ranked construction science and management program.
Haidary graduated with a master’s degree from the Nieri Family Department of Construction Science and Management Department two years later and was immediately accepted into the Planning, Design, and the Built Environment Ph.D. program in 2018.
The two programs place an emphasis on experiential learning.
“My Ph.D. advisor was Dr. Dennis Bausman, who has extensive industrial experience, so he teaches based on that experience,” Haidary said. “He’s amazing. I could not have asked for a better mentor, philosopher and guide.”
Now a recent graduate of that doctoral program, Haidary is working as a project engineer with DPR Construction on the new multi-million-dollar Greenville County Administration Building near downtown Greenville. He’ll work on that project for two years before a new assignment that will likely take him to San Francisco.
Haidary secured that job after serving as an intern with DPR Construction while he was still a student at Clemson. As a part of that internship, Haidary worked on the Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business building, which opened to the public in fall 2020.
Sacrifices for education
In his doctoral address, Haidary spoke little of his own personal successes, instead focusing on his parents’ sacrifices during their lean years as refugees in Pakistan.
“The goal was always about getting a good education to help advance our careers,” Haidary said. “They did it so we would not have to face what they experienced as refugees. It was a story of courage and sacrifice.”
When Haidary told that story at the graduation, his parents and three younger siblings were listening in by livestream.
“They called me after the speech,” Haidary said. “They were all crying.”
Two of Haidary’s three siblings have followed in his footsteps by going to college themselves. The third, at age 12, will likely seek higher education as well.
While at Clemson, Haidary found time to engage in several student leadership activities. He was president of the International Student Association for two years, 2018-19, helping “to build a bridge between students from 106 countries and Americans,” he said.
He helped organize TEDx talks at Clemson and served on the Dean’s Advisory Council for the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities. He also mentored other Fulbright students.
Somehow, Haidary also finds time to enjoy his passion for soccer and skydiving. He recently enjoyed an 18,000-foot tandem jump in California.
His Clemson experience, he said, was everything he hoped for, and more.
“I love the place and the community,” he said. “Everyone is trying to help, going the extra mile. The University is supporting diversity and inclusion in a very positive way. The resources and support Clemson gives to students, especially graduate students, is remarkable.”
Watch Haidary’s Doctoral Student Address in its entirety here:
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