Zayneb, age 16, is the youngest person to earn a bachelor’s degree from the Henry Ford College



Rather than attend her own doctoral commencement at Trevecca Nazarene University in Tennessee, HFC education instructor Dr. Shyma Mustafa instead attended her daughter Zayneb Abu-Khader’s commencement in Dearborn on May 6. Mustafa was proud to see her daughter walk across the stage and become the youngest person ever to graduate from Henry Ford College’s (HFC) renowned Culinary Arts bachelor’s degree program, earning her degree at the age of 16.

“I feel a great sense of accomplishment. I want to inspire younger kids who don’t think they have a chance to succeed at college. That’s crazy – they can! I hope I serve as an inspiration to others who are just as young and who want to go to college. They can do it. It will be hard, but they can do it. I’m definitely proud! I love this feeling!” said Abu-Khader, a lifelong Dearborn resident.

Added Mustafa: “I am proud of Zayneb and her accomplishments as she has achieved so much in such a short time. At a very young age, Zayneb knew what she wanted and set her mind on achieving her goal. She persisted and performed even during the chaos of the pandemic and made it through. I’m a proud mother and am blessed she decided to pave her own way. Kids aren’t made to fit in societal defined boxes. They should be nurtured to explore and value their own unique paths. Zayneb did just that successfully.”

The second of five children, Abu-Khader was homeschooled and earned her high school diploma from Penn Foster High School, an online school in Scranton, PA. She graduated in 2019.

Attending HFC, her local community college, was a logical choice for Abu-Khader. This fall, she will attend Wayne State University and begin work on her MBA.

“Both my parents (Mustafa and her father, Heitham Abu-Khader) and sister (Ayat Abu-Khader) are HFC alumni. My parents, grandfather, and sister are Wayne State alumni. It’s kind of our thing: HFC, then Wayne State,” said Abu-Khader, laughing.

The HFC cooking camps sparked her interest in going into the culinary field. For three consecutive summers, Abu-Khader attended camps at the College.

“I just fell in love with it,” she said. “My mom sat me down and showed me the programs offered at HFC. My heart just led me to culinary arts. I enjoyed seeing the chefs in action. I loved the environment. To me, it felt like a family and not a school.”

Abu-Khader enrolled in HFC’s Culinary Arts program in 2019. Culinary Arts instructors Eric Gackenbach, Joseph Cosenza, and Lauren Wallace have had a positive influence on her.

“I got to learn and work alongside professional chefs who have experience in the culinary industry,” she said. “I remember when I met Chef Cosenza via Zoom during the pandemic one night at 7:00 p.m. We spoke about a problem I was having. He got me through it with the utmost patience. All three of them have always been there for me, no matter what. I am grateful.”

“Zayneb is one of our students who persisted during these difficult past few years during lockdowns and restrictions on in-person learning,” said Gackenbach. “She and her fellow students are part of a brave group who are now graduating and moving on. We wish her the best as she pursues her next goal of a master’s degree at Wayne State’s Ilitch School of Business.”

For the past five months, Abu-Khader has been the dining room manager at Soho Banquet & Event Center in Westland. This is a co-op position she obtained through HFC.

“It’s been a great experience,” she said.

If Abu-Khader could continue taking classes at HFC, she would.

“It’s the best school. I would go again 100 times! If HFC had an MBA program, I would go. HFC is like family. They have ultimate resources, so you’re never lost and always have a plan, so you always know what to do next,” she said.

Abu-Khader stressed the importance of family.

“Being from such an educated family, they are my number one inspiration. My cousins and my sister all graduated at a very young age,” she said. “The only reason I’m here today and am a college graduate is because of my family.”


NOTE: Because Zayneb Abu-Khader is 16, her mother granted HFC permission to interview her and to publicly share this story and the related photograph.