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Once an introvert, Saint Bernard senior says school, classmates brought him out of his shell

When reflecting on his seven years at Saint Bernard School, Haseeb Qureshi kept coming back to Feb. 14, 2020.

That was the day the entire student body gathered to talk about diversity and to hear from their peers, including Qureshi, whose family is from Pakistan, about their experiences being the subjects of racism and offensive or insensitive remarks.

Qureshi, who along with classmate Taina Quinones helped organize the daylong event, spoke about how in elementary school, if there was a fire drill, some students said, “Oh, Haseeb did it.” Or at times while growing up in Norwich when people heard him speaking to his family, they would say “stop speaking terrorist.”

The response from his classmates to what he said was overwhelming and also unexpected.

“Everyone was so accepting and understanding. I didn’t expect that at all,” Qureshi said in a recent phone interview.

“At the end of it, pretty much everyone was crying and everyone lined up and gave each other hugs,” he said. “That was the reason it was definitely my favorite day. It was the most from-the-heart experience of my life.”

The experience provided a “fresh perspective” for those who knew Qureshi as someone with an outspoken and bubbly personality, to see him “so vulnerable” and showing “emotions he’d buried deep down,” his friend Quinones said.

Though Qureshi admits he wasn’t always so outspoken.

In late 2016, tragedy struck with the death of his close friend Conor Irwin, following a skateboarding accident.

“That pretty much wrecked up the beginning of high school for me ... I isolated myself and didn’t talk to anyone,” Qureshi said.

His classmates at Saint Bernard helped him through it. He recalled one person in particular, classmate Lauren O’Donnell, who in January 2017 turned to him in class and said, “Hey, do you want to be my best friend?”

To this day, the two are close friends.

“They really opened up to me,” Qureshi said of his classmates. “They put me into their community.”

This year, Qureshi was nominated by his classmates to be one of the class officers. His pitch to be vice president included “a lot of 'we' statements instead of 'I,'” said Quinones, who also was a class officer.

“'We really want to do this for you guys,' not 'I want to do this.' He’s definitely a people person who wants to include everyone. He doesn’t want anyone to feel left out,” Quinones said.

After he was nominated vice president, Qureshi carried around a notebook filled with ideas and step-by-step plans. That “showed who he was and how his mind worked,” Quinones said.

His teachers Matthew Donnelly and Marsha Regan described Qureshi as a hard worker, a student who valued education and who balanced schoolwork with a host of extracurriculars. He’s funny and outgoing but also knows when it’s time to get down to business.

“He’s popular for all the right reasons,” Donnelly said.

There was no shortage of extracurriculars in which he was involved: psychology club, food club, the varsity tennis team, Math Honors Society, National Honors Society, just to name a few. He also helped coach middle school tennis.

“He dipped his toe into a little bit of everything this year,” O’Donnell, his close friend, said. She joked that she didn’t realize how much he was involved with until she was flipping through the yearbook.

“He told me at the beginning of year he really wanted to get involved since it was his last year, he wanted to do so much for the school,” she said. "Once Haseeb sets his mind to something, that’s his main focus.”

Qureshi is heading to the University of Connecticut in the fall, and said he plans to take what he's learned at Saint Bernard, and that close-knit community feel, with him.

“That’s the number one thing about the school is the community. Everyone there supports you and helps you. Like the diversity panel. Basically what happened is we took a poll and found out there was a problem and we instantly got to action,” he said.

j.bergman@theday.com

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