Air Force Veteran and Georgetown Law Student Karim Ibrahim, L’26, Named 2024 Tillman Scholar

June 27, 2024

Karim Ibrahim, a rising Georgetown Law 2L, is part of the 2024 class of Tillman Scholars, a prestigious academic fellowship for armed forces members, veterans and military spouses.

On June 27, the Pat Tillman Foundation named Karim Ibrahim, L’26, to its 2024 class of Tillman Scholars. Ibrahim, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, is among 60 armed forces members, veterans and military spouses selected this year from a pool of nearly 1,600 applicants for the prestigious educational fellowship.

Established in memory of Pat Tillman, who left a professional football career to join the Army after the September 11 terrorist attacks and was killed while serving in Afghanistan in 2004, the Pat Tillman Foundation provides academic scholarships and support to help its Scholars reach their fullest potential as leaders. Ibrahim is the 19th Georgetown University student to become a Tillman Scholar.

Ibrahim said he learned he’d been awarded the scholarship from Rodrigo Bermudez, L’24, and Melissa McCafferty, L’23, two close mentors and Tillman Scholars from earlier classes, who joined the foundation’s Zoom call to break the good news.

“It was a very full-circle moment,” said Ibrahim. “It felt incredible. Knowing all the amazing things that Rodrigo and Melissa have done, both before and as Tillman Scholars, I am very excited to now embark on that journey.”


Ibrahim’s family – him, his parents and older brother – came to the U.S. from Egypt when he was still a baby. Post-September 11 New York City was a difficult place to raise a Muslim family, and their parents’ struggles became so intense that at times the teenage brothers had to fend for themselves and became homeless.

Though he eventually gained relief from deportation through the DACA program, Ibrahim was still ineligible for most college scholarships and loans. While working at a car wash, he heard a radio ad that led him to an Air Force recruitment office.

The recruiter he met took on the extra paperwork required to enlist a noncitizen and then secure Ibrahim’s U.S. citizenship. Now that DACA recipients are no longer eligible to become citizens through military service, Ibrahim considers himself fortunate.

“I was just trying to solidify a path where I could go to school, where I could have a future,” he said. “I now feel more motivated to help people who don’t have a fair path to citizenship – and ultimately that is what segued into leaving the military and now going onto this next journey into law school.”

Ibrahim spent seven years on active duty before stepping down last summer to begin at Georgetown Law. While stationed in Kuwait in 2019 and 2020, he met many Syrian refugees, using his Arabic to ask about their experiences. What he learned, he said, gave him a new perspective on his own family’s immigration journey and strengthened his resolve to help others.

“I was reminded what the refugee crisis is like around the world. Growing up in post-9/11 New York, I thought my life was awful – but they were wishing that that was their life. They believe that this country is going to provide a new path,” he said.

A young man in Air Force uniform, holding a folded U.S. flag.

Ibrahim, serving on an Air Force honor guard team.

For his next posting, Ibrahim requested an opportunity to do more humanitarian-oriented work, and became the honor guard program manager in West Texas, representing the Air Force at events like veteran funerals and retirement ceremonies. It was, he says, “the peak of my military career.” He felt satisfaction mentoring new team members and appreciation from the bereaved families they served. Plus, he fell in love, with a woman he describes as “my rock.” The once-homeless young man finally felt like he belonged to a real community.

“These people became so important to me,” he said of the team he’d led. “The Air Force does a great job with training us to become future leaders. What the military gave me was more than I ever could have imagined when I first joined.”


With his girlfriend’s encouragement, Ibrahim began thinking about post-military options, and got into his dream law school, Georgetown. He’s enjoying getting to know Washington, D.C., where he’s taken time to connect with his new neighbors while walking his dog.

“It’s beautiful how here in D.C., you can be a pillar within your community. You just need to be a good person,” he said. “People forget about that – they’re chasing judgeships, they’re chasing working on the Hill, they’re chasing offices. But in reality, we can make so many impacts at this frontline level. And I think if more of us in the D.C. community took on that role, we would make incredible changes.”

Meanwhile, on campus, he joined the Georgetown Military Law Society, where he’s met mentors and friends who understand what it’s like to transition to civilian life. Bermudez and McCafferty have played especially important roles: Bermudez urged him to apply for the Tillman scholarship and McCafferty provided valuable advice about taking a summer job at her firm, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP.

At the firm this summer, he’s been able to work on pro bono cases for causes dear to his heart, including refugee asylum applications and veterans’ dishonorable discharge appeals. In the shorter term, he expects to work for the firm again next summer. Beyond that, Ibrahim hopes to advocate for immigration reform.

“Georgetown does a great job both educating students and educating the world on current immigration policies,” he said. “The university has navigated countless world crisis situations while still furthering the education and advancement of immigrants and refugees. So I’m extremely grateful that they have not given up the good fight. I’m definitely proud and happy to be here.”