A Coquitlam restauranteur robbed of the joys and feelings of accomplishment due to civil war in his native Afghanistan, has gone out of his way to make sure the Class of 2020 won’t be similarly denied by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Malik Malikzada has a history of helping the community. On Monday, when his restaurant, Jamila's Kitchen, is normally closed, he'll be preparing lunch exclusively for the valedictorians of School District 43’s 11 high schools. Each will also receive a $50 cash gift.
Malikzada said it’s his family’s way of trying to turn a difficult situation, which has seen many ceremonies scaled back to online, drive-thru, drive-in or pick-up events without the usual pomp and circumstance of crowded auditoriums filled with proud parents and family members, followed by lavish celebratory parties.
“They are our future leaders,” Malikzada said. “We don’t want them to feel sadness.”
It was the same empty feeling he felt when the mujahideen moved into Kabul just a few months before he was set to graduate. A few years later, he and his new wife, Jamila, fled to Pakistan as refugees, a journey that ultimately brought them to Canada.
Malikzada said the absence of that milestone event in his life remained largely buried until he attended the graduation ceremony of his eldest son from Riverside secondary a few years ago.
“That lit a spark in me,” he said of the event that was held at Simon Fraser University, adding it erupted into the fire of an idea when he saw the parallel of his own personal loss and those high school seniors being denied their moment up on a stage because of the public health crisis.
So the Malikzadas put together a small budget and started reaching out to the local high schools to get an idea of the numbers of valedictorians they’d be dealing with. And while Malik is still waiting to hear back to confirm all the names, he hopes other business will pick up the mantle and do what they can to honour the community’s graduates.
Earlier, the CEO of the Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce, Michael Hind, issued a similar challenge to businesses to offer grads discounts through the summer. A Port Coquitlam photography studio is offering a special outdoor photo session for grads, with proceeds going to charity. And on Saturday at 8:20 p.m. (20:20 in military time), everyone in the province is being encouraged to “make some noise” for the Class of 2020, an idea that originated with some Port Coquitlam students.
Malikzada said the gestures are meaningful.
“They didn’t have their ceremony,” he said. “But we can shift that focus from a negative to a positive angle.”