May 7, 2012
Comfort Dassin has personal knowledge of the horrors of war. While she left Liberia, West Africa, at a very young age during a time of brutal civil war, the knowledge of the upheaval in the country in which she was born has imprinted itself upon her life and her life’s goals.
“I was three and a half when I came to the United States. While I left during the civil war at such a young age, I think it has still given me a better appreciation for life,” said Dassin, 23, of Ambler, who will graduate with a degree in Sociology during Temple’s 125th Commencement on May 10. “It gives me more of an impetus to never give up. A lot of people died while I lived — that’s a lot to live up to and it has given me a great deal of resolve to always strive to do my best.”
One of those thought lost in the Liberian civil war was her older sibling, Dassin said.
“I have an older brother that I’ve never met. My mother thought he had died, but we found him again in 2003 — we’ve spoken on the phone and I hope to meet him in person one day,” she said. “It comes back a lot when you follow current events. Recently the Ivory Coast had a civil war — Liberia sits between the Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone; it makes you hope that the unrest doesn’t spread. During the Liberian civil war, the Ivory Coast helped the country’s refugees and now Liberia is doing the same for the Ivory Coast.”
Dassin came to the United States two years prior to her parents, living with her aunt and uncle. As a little girl she helped facilitate her parents’ entry into the U.S.
“As the story was told to me, a social worker came to visit me at my uncle’s house. They told me they could help process papers for my parents,” she said. “Apparently I said ‘yes’ I’d like them to do that and that got the whole process started. Two years later they were here with me.”
Initially growing up in New York, Dassin moved to Pennsylvania where her father would study theology. In 10th grade, the family moved to Ambler while her father completed his degree and assisted at a Lutheran church in the borough. She completed school at Wissahickon High School and went on to complete an Associate of Applied Science degree in Human Services at Montgomery County Community College.
“I always knew I wanted to change the world; I wanted to help people and make a difference. At first I said I wanted to be a lawyer — I would read law books in middle school,” she said. “As I grew up and life settled in, I became particularly interested in human services. Sociology in particular gave me more options and more opportunities. Montgomery County was a great starting point, but I knew I wanted to get a higher level degree.”
Dassin said the birth of her daughter Julia put her educational aspirations on hold for a time, but she was convinced by a friend — fellow Temple University alum and Ambler Campus student leader Jean Marc Moulot — that Temple might be the right fit for her.
“I knew I had to find the right options for myself and my daughter. Temple Ambler was very conveniently located for me and gave me the opportunity to really get involved,” said Dassin, who was president of the Ambler Campus Program Board for the 2011-2012 school year and also worked in the campus Student Activities Office. “You take things one step at a time and strive to build a balance between family, school, and work. I think Ambler is a very family-oriented campus — people really take the time to get to know you.”
Her parents’ support, Dassin said, has been an essential part to allowing her to reach her goals.
“I am truly blessed with the support from my family and my faith,” she said. “It’s their support that has allowed me to still be a ‘normal’ student even though I’m not.”
Dassin received a 2012 Campus Leadership Award at the Temple University Student Leadership Awards Banquet. The Ambler Campus Program Board also received a Special Achievement Award for this year’s “Afrocentria” Black History Month Cultural Fest, a celebration of music, dance, food, fashion, song and poetry, which Dassin helped spearhead.
“The goal of the Afrocentria event was to educate the Ambler Campus community about the diversity of African culture and the influence African-American culture has had in the development of modern African culture in the arts,” she said. “Afrocentria was structured around the artistic abilities derived from and naturally experienced in the Black community.”
During the event, Dassin shared some of her own poetry. A testimonial poem was also read about the affects of the civil war in Liberia on its community.
“Student Life — Dr. Wanda (Lewis-Campbell, Assistant Dean for Student Life at Ambler) and Lauren (Bullock, Coordinator for Student Life) — really strives to get the best out of our students,” she said. “They’ve helped me to develop my leadership skills and helped me to become more organized as a person. They’ve allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and try anything.”
Degree in hand, Dassin said she plans to take a little time off, though she won’t be resting by any means.
“I want to write a book. I’ve started writing poetry and short stories, but I want this novel to be based on my personal journey,” she said. “I feel like I’ve crossed many fires and risen above them. I hope my experience can inspire others.”