Rushanara Ali MP came to St John’s in 1993 to study Politics, Philosophy and Economics. She was first elected as the Labour Member of Parliament for Bethnal Green and Bow in 2010. She is also an Honorary Fellow of the College.
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I arrived at St John’s in 1993 with a dual sense of excitement and trepidation. In my heart I knew I’d earned my place at Oxford, but initially I felt like I had arrived on a different planet. It couldn’t have been more different from the diverse world of the East End of London where I grew up. This was a time when not many women from my background went to universities like Oxford. That sense that you’re somehow an imposter never quite leaves you, no matter how hard you work, how well you do, and how much fun you have.

 For me, it ignited a desire to blaze a trail for others. I might be among the first women of British Bangladeshi heritage at Oxford, but I was determined I wouldn’t be the last! I wanted girls at my old school in the East End of London to believe they are as good as anyone else. As I reflect on my time at Oxford, I wonder what I would say to that 18-year-old, born in Bangladesh and made in the East End of London? I would say: ‘If not you, then who?’ I would say: ‘Believe in yourself, be confident and embrace it’. 

 My time at Oxford shaped me and it prepared me for the challenges of public life and Parliament. It gave me the intellectual tools to tackle practical problems. It gave me some wonderful, enduring friendships and many happy memories. 

Lastly I value the guidance and support of my tutors, for which I am eternally grateful. At each point of decision, from my academic choices to becoming the first British MP of Bangladeshi origin, I have appreciated their counsel and encouragement