No Stress: Ibrahim Kamara ’05
Kamara stays open to all the world has to offer and takes life one day at a time, with intention.
Ibrahim Kamara grew up in Southwest Philadelphia with parents of West African descent and surrounded by family members, all of whom had emigrated from Sierra Leone. He spent many of his earliest days at work with his mother, a housekeeper for a family in Mt. Airy. He calls his upbringing “dichotomist,” with a diversity that was a perfect precursor for enrolling at The Miquon School when he was six years old.
Preschool at the Germantown Jewish Center at age four and Kindergarten at Henry H. Houston Elementary School in Philadelphia helped to create an open young boy, ready for almost anything. September of 1999 found him in Maryanne Yoshida’s first/second grade classroom, where his first reaction was one of delight.
“I remember how quickly I took to her and she is still my favorite teacher and my first memory of Miquon,” says Kamara. “Maryanne fostered a love for learning and my new friends helped foster my love of sports. I was always happy at Miquon and with the friends I made in that first class, and I developed a general enthusiasm for being there. That’s a testament to the wonderful people I had around me.”
Kamara was skilled at creating a sense of family and building relationships, in spite of all the time he had spent alone while his mother worked. His earliest—since first grade—and best friend, Bijan Sosnowski, is still his best friend. In fifth grade, he participated in Miquon’s mock presidential election, where he “stumped” throughout the school, learning to talk to students of different ages and backgrounds, building consensus and relationships.
“We were given the task to run a political campaign and had to figure it out,” he explains. Toward the end, I gave a speech to the school—even wore a shirt and tie,” he says chuckling at the memory. “There were few rules, and we were given the time to come up with a plan.”
CNN was always on at home and he felt fairly politically inclined. And competitive. So when he lost the race, he says he was “a bit distraught.”
“I met the whole school and learned a lot, though,” he says. “We learned about politics and how campaigns are managed; how to articulate our beliefs and write them out and give speeches; how to relate to others; and, not the least, I grew comfortable in my own skin.”
Kamala’s comfort level extends to his ability not to stress out over things that many others would not take in stride—taking a job in Center City, leaving that job to interview around the country for top tech firms, and ultimately, moving halfway across the country to take one of those jobs—with Google’s legal team in Austin, Texas. His credo is simple: never stress.
“My desire to be deliberate and intentional about life came a bit after I left Miquon but grew out of learning there that the world is bigger than just what is in front of me,” he says. “I learned there how to learn and that foundation helped me every step of the way after that.”
Kamara says he approached every endeavor with the same passion and energy he did on the playing field, where he excelled at soccer. He also played at Germantown Friends, the school he attended through high school, and then at Franklin & Marshall College, where he majored in Government/International Affairs and Spanish. He also ran track in high school.
Real-life lessons from playful investigation
“That time to play and run on the wood chip field every day at Miquon was the simplest and yet happiest moments of my life,” he says, adding that he spent every possible moment outdoors, and especially remembers games of “all-campus tag” through the woods and fields.
He doesn’t believe he or his classmates recognized what was really going on behind the play; he knows now that the late winter ritual of tapping trees, collecting sap, and observing that sap condensed into sugar was really a lesson. “I can see now the patterns and consistency and understand what we were learning. It all was so informing.”
And he remembers that, every winter, when it snowed, science teacher, Tony Hughes, would boil corn syrup, put a little in a saucer for each student, who would pour the steaming liquid into the snow where it would solidify. When they brought it indoors, Hughes added food coloring and flavoring for a mid-day, snow-cone snack.
Or they would take items found in the creek, crayfish, leaves, stones—and use them in an end-of-the-year science fair, where they gave presentations. “I was so young, and not cerebral or thinking of what it meant to play in the creek or what was really involved with all the countless plays we produced over the years. But I owe so much of my deliberate, laissez-faire attitude to Miquon.”
Venturing into new spaces
Although Kamara’s approach may be hands-off, he has accomplished quite a bit in the few years since college. Rather than go straight to law school after graduation, he decided to work as a paralegal/legal assistant in Center City, Philadelphia, to get his feet wet. He worked closely with the partners in a relatively small firm, and calls the experience “great.”
After about 18 months, a friend reached out and told him about a position on the legal team at Dropbox. He was flown to San Francisco for a morning of interviews, his first time in that part of the country. Although he did not get the job, “I had seen the other side of the curtain and was convinced I needed to be in the tech space.”
Soon after, Kamara interviewed for a similar legal position with Google, also in California, as well as for a sales role, once again, at Dropbox, and although he didn’t get either, he realized the value in the interview process with big-name industry players, and was encouraged.
In January 2017, Kamara was flown again, this time to Austin where he interviewed for his current position as a member of the legal investigations team, where he works on user data disclosures in criminal investigations with law enforcement agencies from around the country.
“I never thought I’d end up at Google, much less on the legal team,” he says, and adds that he loves Austin and its energy. “All those experiences—being open to them all—goes hand-in-glove with my Miquon days,” he says.
Although he acclimated quickly to Miquon, that fifth-grade race for “President of Miquon” widened his comfort zone. “Putting my face on posters around the school was new and very informing,” he says. “It helped me become more open and honest about who I am and my heritage and allowed me to venture into new spaces. Being open to all that at such a young age was enlightening.”
And he is not alone in appreciating the value of his Miquon education. Kamara attended Germantown Friends School with several friends from Miquon and recalls conversations they had about their elementary education. “We remembered it as an eclectic environment that bred a sense of playfulness and wonder and brought us around all different types of people fostering an awareness of the world.”
“I don’t think I could have gone to a better school for the type of person I was and would inevitably become,” says Kamara. “Miquon was perfect for me, and I owe it a lot.”