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I love to run. It gives me the chance to collect myself and my thoughts over the events of the day. It’s a time I don’t have to speak; I can formulate my thoughts with abstract ideas and be impacted by abstract ideas.

So when I learned early on that in my DukeEngage program in Washington D.C. I would have time to run the national mall (my apartment is 5 minutes away), I leaped at the idea. Expecting to experience new and differing ideas on every run, I found the exact opposite. I would keep only one thought with me every time: freedom.

I love to run in the night. In the pitch black dark, the only edifices lit are truly meant to speak to observers through a totally different sense. The unintended consequence created is that certain memorials, like the Jefferson, are seen from almost anywhere in the mall. When I saw the round dome of that memorial, I was first reminded of Thomas Jefferson’s own Monticello: they weren’t related by structure or design, but by their beauty. On the first night of my runs, I decided to take a brief moment to step in and attempt to understand the meaning of the memorial, as it lies on my path.

In the middle of a pure marble dome, Jefferson’ statue simply stands. As his blank expression exposed who he was and what he truly represented, I understood the yeomen farmer; he was the embodiment of freedom. To his immediate left, a quote was etched into the surrounding marble.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

My past and current existence is the result of that idea.

I was brought to this country by a family persecuted by a foreign government for holding these exact ideas and trying to apply them to all parts of society in writing. Defending a free press was an idea created by our founders and laid as a cornerstone of American political thought.

Defending a society that enjoys freedom of religion is the reason I can run on this very path. As someone who has left the Muslim religion, I would be killed as an apostate under religious laws in thirteen countries around the world. Women who are running alongside me with their hair down can’t do so in countries that have instituted a religious headcover or chador. They couldn’t drive to the national mall if they were in Saudi Arabia, and they couldn’t leave their house without male permission in Yemen.

My DukeEngage program focuses on science policy, much of which deals with the denial of climate change by many who we often battle not with words or people, but with ideas. It’s high time that just as the ideas associated with anthropogenic climate change should be vigorously defended by each and every American, we start defending the other, more focal ideals that we stand by and are what truly define humanity.

I love to run in DC. Every moment viewing these sepulchers of ideas, not people is a moment that I truly embrace. I hasten, not wanting to be left behind in land that has memorialized other’s contributions, but to a place where I can celebrate my own.