Imagine standing up in front of your peers and their families to give an inspiring speech in a language that you learned not even three years ago. As co-valedictorian of her high school, Fatima Al Rashed did just that – and so much more.
Fatima came to the United States from Iraq with her siblings and parents in 2015, seeking safety from the worsening conditions there. She describes her life in Iraq as simple. Starting her life over in the United States was anything but that. She had to learn everything about American culture, including what Halloween and Dunkin Donuts were. She did not understand the English that her peers and teachers were using around her, and she constantly got lost on her way to class. Fatima may have been out of her element, but her determination to succeed propelled her forward. “For a long time, my day would consist of going to school, going to my activities, then going home and helping my siblings with their homework.” Only then could she start her own work. Each night until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning she translated each homework assignment from English to Arabic to understand the concepts. After six months of this relentless effort, she became fluent in English.
Things began to change for Fatima. She found loving, supportive friends, joined clubs, and made the varsity tennis team, a lifelong dream. Fatima excelled in academics and landed herself paid internships in Yale University’s Information Technology department, and the Yale School of Medicine’s prestigious medical research program.
Despite her success, Fatima knows first-hand that hardships can come along at any time. During her valedictorian speech, Fatima reminded the audience, “Life is unpredictable. Always be prepared for the best and the worst, and do not be afraid to face your obstacles and challenges; they will make you stronger.”
Overall, her message is not about what she has been through, but what she has been able to do with opportunities “that others around the world would die for.”
This fall, Fatima will be attending the University of Pennsylvania on a full scholarship to study pre-med. She is living the adage, “When life gives you lemons, make orange juice and leave the world wondering how you did it.”