Gentle, soft-spoken former Evergreen professor inspired his students in the cause of social justice
Political science professor, Zahid Shariff, had a gift for connecting with students during lectures at The Evergreen State College. Former students recall Shariff’s gentle demeanor and soft-spoken voice required them to lean in and listen close as he relayed what one described as “the most intensely beautiful things. Every sentence was poetry.”
“Zahid set minds free,” says Michelle Ryder, a former student who graduated from Evergreen in 2009 and works for a nonprofit in Bonney Lake. “His classroom always held the promise of building a better self, of connecting heart, mind and experience and situating them in lived reality and the broader struggle for global social justice and equality.”
Shariff, 75, passed away late Sunday, August 10, 2014, at Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia. A funeral service and burial were held Tuesday, August 12, 2014, through the Islamic Center of Olympia.
Shariff served 22 years on the Evergreen faculty. His colleagues remember him as a devoted advocate for his students and campus community, and as a keen, respected observer of geo-political events and trends.
“Zahid could be counted on to give his all to his students,” says Lin Nelson, a sociology professor at Evergreen. “He helped build thoughtful, reflective and wise classes, and did much to cultivate human rights work on campus and in the community. He will be missed so very much.”
“A true intellectual and a gentleman in both senses of the word, Zahid was a proper man who was gentle with people,” adds Larry Mosqueda, a political science professor at Evergreen. “He was also a favorite of students. I was proud to be his friend and his colleague.”
“Zahid was generous with his time and knowledge, mentoring new Evergreen faculty, and inspiring them with his dedicated approach to teaching,” says Therese Saliba, professor of Middle Eastern studies at Evergreen. “Even after retirement, he stayed intellectually engaged with book discussion groups and post-retirement teaching.”
Shariff brought a real-life perspective to his classes on colonialism and imperialism. Born on March 7, 1939 in India, his parents and eight siblings were required to move in 1948 as part of the Partition of India. The family re-settled in Pakistan, where Shariff earned a Master of Public Administration degree from Karachi University. Shariff pursued his studies in New York City, earning a Doctorate in Public Administration from New York University in 1966. He then returned to Pakistan to participate in efforts to build a modernized, peaceful nation.
In 1971, Shariff accepted an offer to teach at Brooklyn College in New York. In 1977, he and his family moved to Illinois, where he earned tenure as a political science professor at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. In 1991, he relocated to Olympia to begin his teaching at Evergreen.
In addition to several nieces and nephews, Shariff is survived by two sisters, Hamim Aftab and Farida Shariff; two daughters, Syra (Jim) Postelnick and Nina (Lance) Helgeson; two step-sons Evan (Ann) Schofer and Jonathan Schofer; and three grandchildren, Mollie and Mark Schofer, and Lucas Helgeson.
“Our family feels profound gratitude for the love and support that our father, brother and uncle received from colleagues, friends and students throughout his time in Olympia, and especially in his final days,” Syra Postelnick, Shariff’s daughter, says in a family statement. “We will all miss his intellect, generosity, gentleness and beautiful smile.”
Colleagues, family and friends are planning a memorial at The Evergreen State College in the fall. Memorial donations may be made to Evergreen’s Annual Fund, which supports the First People’s Foundation and other student scholarships.
—Zahid Shariff’s family