Budding engineer Ahmed Mohamed has called the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) his “dream school.”
Well, Ahmed, it seems the positive feelings are mutual.
During an interview with MSNBC's Chris Hayes on Wednesday, the 14-year-old, who was arrested in his Texas high school earlier this week for bringing in a homemade clock, was introduced to a surprise guest: MIT astrophysicist Chanda Prescod-Weinstein.
The scientist, who works in the university's top-ranked Department of Physics and the California-based Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, told Ahmed that he was exactly the “kind of student we want at places like MIT and Harvard.”
“I just want to say, you are my ideal student,” she said to the beaming teen, extending an invitation to him to visit the university. “A creative, independent thinker like you is the kind of person who should be becoming a physicist. As a theoretical physicist, I would love it if you took an interest in the mathematical side, although you’re clearly very adept with your hands and at building things.”
Ahmed has been in the media spotlight since Monday, when he was arrested at MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas for bringing in a homemade clock. The ninth-grader says he’d built the device in the hopes of impressing his teachers.
Instead of praise, however, school administrators reacted by asking the Muslim teen if he’d tried to "make a bomb." Ahmed was eventually arrested by police and led from the school in handcuffs. He was sent to a detention center, and later released to his parents.
“I built the clock to impress my teacher, but when I showed it to her, she thought it was a threat to her. It was really sad that she took the wrong impression from it,” Ahmed said in an interview this week.
But though the teen didn't receive the encouragement that he’d hoped for from his school, he’s been deluged with words of support and affirmation in the days since his arrest -- and from the highest ranks, at that.
President Barack Obama has extended an invitation to Ahmed to visit the White House, while former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has told the teen to “stay curious and keep building.”
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim member of Congress, began carrying a clock around Capitol Hill on Wednesday to show support for the high schooler.
“Discriminatory profiling doesn’t have a place in our country. Ahmed is working hard and being creative. It’s a shame that a boy is faced with such injustice in America," Ellison told The Huffington Post. "I’m proud to stand with him and carry a clock around with me today.”
The biggest names in tech have also heaped praise on Ahmed. This week, Facebook, Google, Twitter and Box have all reached out to the teen publicly.
“Having the skill and ambition to build something cool should lead to applause, not arrest. The future belongs to people like Ahmed,” wrote Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg Wednesday.
The Irving Police Department has said that the case against Ahmed will be dropped. But his family may still consider taking legal action against the officials involved, said Alia Salem, director of the North Texas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“They automatically jumped to a conclusion that I don't believe they would've jumped to, had he been 'Jimmy,'” she told HuffPost.
Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne, who has been accused of Islamophobia herself, has defended law enforcement and school officials for their actions against Ahmed. “To the best of my knowledge, they followed protocol,” she wrote on Facebook Wednesday.
Ahmed's father, Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed, who has lived in Irving for three decades, says he's been very moved by the outpouring of support for his son.
“What is happening is touching the heart, for everybody has children, and that is America,” he told reporters, according to NBC News.“When there is something wrong, they stand and rise up, and we're grateful and thankful to them. What happened to our son, it is a sign to go forward.”
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