Meet the North Albion Collegiate Institute student who's headed to Harvard University

Azim Raheem has committed to playing at Harvard University on their men’s volleyball team and will receive financial aid over the course of his four years at the university.

Azim Raheem says being accepted to the school is 'a dream' he never imagined would come true

Volleyball athlete Azim Raheem says going to Harvard will be a life changing experience

2 years ago
Duration 0:25
'Not many people will ever have the opportunity to go to Harvard and be able to say that they were at Harvard and were able to do great things at Harvard,' he says. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

Standing at six feet, seven inches, volleyball player Azim Raheem dominates on the court.

"I serve tough. I pick smart and I make smart shots," said Raheem. "My athletic ability is something that really allows me to do big things on the court and be able to detonate and terminate on balls."

With games and tournaments all being cancelled this past season because of the pandemic, the 17-year-old athlete and North Albion Collegiate Institute student hasn't had much of an opportunity to play this season.

Still, he managed to impress scouts at a tournament in Chicago this past January, just before the pandemic hit  — earning him a much coveted position on the volleyball team of an Ivy League university.

Raheem was asked to apply for early admissions to Harvard University and now, will not only be playing on the school's men's volleyball team, he'll also receive financial aid over the course of his four years of studies.

"I always wanted to go to Harvard. I always thought it would be cool. It was kind of like a little dream... But I never thought that they would approach me," Raheem told CBC News.

WATCH: Azim's mother describes the moment she found out her son was going to Harvard:

Maryam Raheem describes the moment she found out her son was going to Harvard University

2 years ago
Duration 0:39
'You make me proud," said Azim Raheem's mother, Maryam Raheem, when she describes the moment she found her son was going to Harvard University. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

'That was kind of my big moment'

"That was kind of my big moment," Raheem said, going on to explain the Pakmen 17U — the Canadian team he was playing on during the Winter Volleyball Classic Tournament in Chicago — came in seventh overall in the 17 and under category among 43 teams. That qualified it to play in the US Nationals that spring, before they were cancelled. 

During the club season, Raheem plays for the Pakmen U17 team, but he also played for Team Ontario Black in the oldest age group of the provincial team and the U19 Youth National Team. 

Raheem's Pakmen U17 coach, Aleksandar Mamuzic says only very skilled players make it onto the youth national teams, making him an exceptional athlete.

"A lot of people think it's his physical ability, but it's his mental strength that helped him become a good leader," explained Mamuzic.

Mamuzic believes that over the past year Raheem stepped up as a leader on the team and was one of the main factors of the team's success that year, both in games and during practice.

'He tested close to gifted'

Raheem's high school coach, Fei Chan points out Raheem's academic standing — his straight A grades — and his leadership skills also set him apart. 

"There is a lot of focus on his athletic ability," said Chan, adding, "Remember he tested close to gifted." 

"What makes him outstanding is humility and his ability to lead by example and you can see it on the court everyone rallies around. They are looking up to him and when they see him busting his butt diving for the ball, they try as hard too," said Chan.

North Albion Collegiate Institute grade twelve student Azim Raheem has committed to playing on the men's volleyball team at Harvard University. (CBC News)

His mother, Maryam Raheem, says she had no doubt her son would make it into university.

But knowing he was accepted to one of the most prestigious schools in North America made it that much more special.

"He is hard working and humble," Maryam said, adding she's no longer worried about her son's future or having to pay for tuition. "Lots of weight off my shoulder now," she said.

Maryam says the family worked as a unit to support Raheem to make sure he made it to his tournaments, and that from coaches to mentors, the community stood behind them to make sure he had what he needed to play at all levels.

For Raheem's part, he recognizes his family has made sacrifices to make sure he had the chance to succeed and says he couldn't be more grateful for the support.

"All the years of like putting money and blood, sweat and tears into, like, really getting me through school getting me to and from volleyball practice," is not lost on him.

"It's extremely humbling simply because not everyone gets the opportunity to be around so many great people who seemingly only have such a small impact on your life. But all those small impacts over the course of time make a big impact on one's life, right?" said Raheem.

"Without them, I wouldn't be where I am today."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

Maryam Raheem, Azim's mother, centre, with her oldest son, Abdul Raheem, left, and husband, Abdulrazak Raheem, right. (CBC News)