On this, the day before Manchester’s four high school graduation ceremonies, we are celebrating all that our students have accomplished. Every graduate has much to be proud of when they look back on their high school years and what it took to reach this important milestone. We want members of our community to meet some of the students who will cross the stage tomorrow to received their hard-earned diplomas. These are the stories that we hope will inspire others in the goals they set and the choices they make. It’s our annual reminder of why the pomp and circumstance really matters.
The car accident that severely injured Zainab Salih’s father was the best and worst thing that has ever happened to her. She was in third grade at the time, first at Smyth Road Elementary School, then Weston Elementary, after the family moved to a wheelchair-accessible house for her dad to heal. Immediately after the crash, her father was in a coma at a hospital more than an hour away from Manchester. For three months.
Life as Zainab knew it had changed dramatically. Understandably, her mother concentrated on caring for him in the hospital and at home on his long road to recovery. In some respects, Zainab felt like she was coping with everything on her own.
“I always enjoyed school,” said Zainab, a Central High School senior. “But during that time, I couldn’t focus on anything in class.”
Eventually, the stress became too much for a little girl to a bear, and Zainab describes the day months of emotions flooded out of her while she cried at her desk over a test she was unprepared to take.
“I told my teacher I didn’t know how to do it, and I couldn’t stop crying.”
Zainab met her school guidance counselor that day. After talking to her, Zainab says she felt relieved. It was the start of getting back on track in school and – as her father’s health continued to improve – at home.
Looking back on that experience, Zainab says it’s the reason she wants to be a psychologist.
“I want to be the person a kid or anyone can talk to for support.”
That’s why Zainab sees the silver lining in the trauma that nearly took her father’s life.
“It opened my eyes to knowing what I wanted at a young age. Now I’m setting my goals and pursuing it.”
Indeed, Zainab seems to have found her passion in connecting with people. She works part time at Mount Carmel Nursing Home as a dietary aide. But she doesn’t simply perform her duties and clock out.
“Not all of the patients have family who visit,” Zainab said. “So I had dinner with four ladies on Easter. I loved talking to them, and I discovered I had things in common with each one of them.”
Zainab will attend Thomas College in the fall. In deciding which school to attend, she says she wanted a small school and was impressed by what she saw at the Waterville, Maine, campus when she visited.
“I love one-on-one learning, and the professors there can provide that.”
Zainab says she’s ready for college, and her parents support her decision to attend a school more than a couple hours’ drive away.
“My mom told me a story about how she decided on the college she went to. My grandfather asked her, ‘Where do you feel most at home?’ When we toured Thomas, my mom asked me if I felt at home. I remembered her story, and realized that I really did feel at home there.”
Small town Maine might seem an unlikely choice for a girl who was born in Egypt and arrived in Manchester in 2000 as a toddler. Arabic is the family’s first language. Zainab’s older sister was 15 back then and learned to speak English at Central High School. She’s now a registered nurse and a married mother of two.
“My sister inspires me,” Zainab said. “I’ve learned a lot from her struggles, and she gives great advice.”
Zainab also credits teachers and other mentors for helping her grow into the confident young woman she is today.
“Guidance counselors are my saviors,” she said. “I’ve learned ways to cope with stress and have fun. Life is easy if you want it to be easy.”