Aadir Khan (C '19) was going to grill some sausages, but he was too busy prepping for his next presentation at the Pentagon, and got sidetracked. This will be his third time presenting there—in the past he’s presented to various organizations within the Department of Defense about Terrorist Financing, the legality of the Enhanced Interrogation Program, and other measures being employed in engagements against ISIS. This next presentation deals with National Emergency Powers. In these presentations, Aadir acts as a representative for the Center of Ethics and Rule of Law—an institution at Penn Law committed to promoting and preserving exactly what its name implies. Aadir has been working for CERL since his sophomore year—so at this point, these Pentagon gigs are commonplace.
Still, he is sad about the sausages: “My goal for this week was to grill every day, and now I have failed.”
We sit at the Lambda Chi Alpha chapter house at a wobbly red table topped with a partially infiltrated 30 pack of Hamm’s beer. The chairs squeak underneath our weight. Of the three dark leather couches lining the room, two are topped with disproportionately large plush toys: one gigantic smiling poop emoji and one huge husky. Aadir readjusts his sleeves, unintentionally highlighting the monogrammed, red–knit “AAD” on his left cuff—a stark mark of professionalism against such a raw, collegiate backdrop. Somehow, Aadir straddles the line between both.
A self–proclaimed “Globalist,” “Romanist” (“I don’t care much for the Greeks”), and “pretty academic, studious guy,” Aadir reveals each layer of himself humbly and offhandedly—without even realizing the insanity of some of the things that he does. He is that lovely, quiet, near–oblivious kind of powerful.
Aadir grew up in New York City, just south of the UN Headquarters. Perhaps it was this proximity that bred such a passion for global law. “A lot of the people I grew up around were children of ambassadors or people who were working at different consulates,” he explains, fiddling with the spinning chair beside him.
Maybe it was his parents, who took him around the world well before he even started high school. “We used to always just go to historical places because my dad’s really into history too … my dad had this thing where he would more or less force me to read a bunch of guides about [the] history of the different places before I visited them, and then more or less act as his tour guide whenever we went there.” Both from Pakistan, Aadir’s parents brought him across the globe to practice his handle on history. “Quite literally, [my dad would] point to things and be like, ‘tell me about this!’”
Of all the places he’s visited, his favorite city is Rome. “[The Romans] built a lot of things and they did a lot of things, while the Greeks thought about a lot of things. It's just a matter of what you think is important. I liked the fact that they took concepts and then they built things on it … they were very focused on getting things done and [there wasn't] a culture of sitting around,” he casually gushes. “If you read Latin authors, they complain about the Greeks and how lazy they are. Alexander The Great does a lot of things, but he's technically Macedonian, so I don't really count him.” Now a learned guide, Aadir rattles these facts off without missing a beat, gesticulating as if he were weighing Pat’s versus Geno’s, instead of comparing complex traditions of ancient societies.
Unsurprisingly, Aadir minors in classical studies as well as history and legal atudies. He also majors in PPE and is the president of his fraternity, Lambda Chi Alpha. Still, he seems entirely unconcerned with whether or not he appears impressive. “Sometimes if I have a lot of things that I need to be doing at once, my life just gets into disorder,” he explains. “There [are] some times where I won’t even [brush] my hair … I'll just walk around with bedhead and be like, yeah, I just don’t have time right now.”
Aadir doesn't sweat the small stuff, because he is busy dealing with things bigger than most of us ever come into contact with. “Part of it is just I've dealt with so many things at this point,” he says, bluntly. “The jobs I've worked have really put everything in perspective for me. After going to the DOD and doing counter terrorism stuff, it's like you come back here and … [remember that] there [are] bigger things going on in the world.” Now, a United Nations flag hangs on the wall directly next to the Lambda Chi Alpha coat of arms. Aadir hung it up after becoming president.
Still, he's modest. He is a kid who always wanted a dog yet failed to keep a Beta fish alive. “I remember it dying soon after getting it, and then feeling really guilty about killing a fish and never getting a fish again,” he says, eyes on the ground, lightly but truly remorseful. Still, even in this way, he strives to grow, and he knows exactly how he wants to do so.
“I really want a dog,” he says. “A terrier. A West Highland terrier,” he qualifies. He knows himself and what he wants, and he is honest about it: “I like things that are just maintained properly and done right.”
Still, he is an ordinary college student who has faced the fear of certain years and the triumph of others, just like anyone else. “Sophomore year I remember being an extreme low,” he admits. “I think just going into junior year and realizing I had to get my shit together … that was really it, just entering junior year and being like ‘I have to be serious now.’”
Each friend he’s met might describe him in different ways, reflecting this self–aware pivot. “I definitely changed a lot. I think people who met me at different years have very different first impressions of me. I lost a lot of weight when I came here … [so] physically I changed a lot, but also just I'm pretty nerdy now and I feel like I wasn't very nerdy when I started. My lifestyle’s changed a lot,” he says, adding, “I also had a good alcohol tolerance when I was a freshman and [now] I have no alcohol tolerance.”
What seems to have really changed for Aadir is his tolerance for imperfection.
“I just didn't know what to do and I was freaked out a lot of the time and really stressed out and really unhappy,” he says of his fraught sophomore year. “At some point I just realized that none of this accomplishes anything,” he recalls, shaking his head. Eventually, Aadir came to the realization that, “no matter what happens, I have to accept it, and I just need to try as hard as I can. As long as I put the effort in, I'm not going to beat myself up over the results.”
Aadir recognizes how this outlook has differentiated him from his peers at times. “I definitely feel like I'm a lot calmer than a lot of other people here.”
This calmness is maintained in his steadfast commitment to his principles. He is methodical, to a degree that levels him instead of stressing him out. “I have to do X, Y, and Z, “ he says, hypothesizing. “So I will do X, Y, and Z. But I can't get myself twisted up in the fact that maybe X won’t turn out the way I want it to, or Z won't,” he shrugs. “Don't let it overwhelm you.”
Next year, Aadir will attend Columbia to get his Masters Degree, and afterwards he plans on attending law school. Eventually, he dreams to be a judge. While his goals are lofty, his journey towards them is remarkably grounded: “Work towards that end goal without getting too caught up in the pathway.”