2023 Tillman Scholar

Omer Rafiq

Marine Corps
Harvard University

“Integrity, empathy, resilience, and moral courage were the bedrock of my success in uniform. I will apply these values at home to dismantle hate and revitalize our Union.”

Born and raised in Saudi Arabia to parents of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent, Omer immigrated to the United States at the age of 14. Early exposure to religious sectarianism and deprivation of fundamental human rights equipped him with a unique perspective on America’s most cherished democratic values: defending freedom, upholding universal rights, and treating every person with dignity. A strong commitment to preserving the values that shaped Omer’s identity led him to join the Marines. 

Commissioned as an infantry officer, his lived experiences and service in conflict-ridden nations are the foundation of his commitment to protecting democratic institutions at home and amplifying the dire need for us to uphold their integrity. Omer’s new mission is to address polarization and the crisis in public leadership. As an aspiring policy professional — one who will place country and community before self — his calling is rooted in the understanding that political divisions and democratic backsliding at home hamper our ability to project power abroad. Exposure to failed states has fueled his desire to protect electoral integrity, enhance voter participation, and preserve the future of American democracy.

Pursuing a master’s in public administration at the Harvard Kennedy School, Omer hopes to craft strategies that will urge public and private corporations to adopt business models that commit to supporting a sustainable and inclusive democracy. Utilizing the power of a story that is only possible in America, he intends on promulgating a narrative that addresses hate and divisiveness through a message of unity.