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California, USA - Chaldean delivery driver, Salim Audesh beams with pride as nearly 3,500 California educators give his son, Fadi Shaya a standing ovation.
The Shaya Christian home outside of Baghdad was blown up when he was 6. When most children would be learning their multiplication tables in school, Fadi was learning to fire a rifle to deter Muslims who had beaten him unconscious several times. When not helping his father defend the family, Fadi would be making deliveries by mule in Iraq. Consistent and repeated threats against Christians in Iraq, the Shaya family decided to leave everything behind and flee Iraq.
Smuggled into Greece, Fadi Shaya spent the next few years later selling tissues and lottery tickets on the streets of Greece. Eventually the family makes it to the shores of America and Shaya’s family focus coupled with American opportunity turns to extraordinary achievement.
Arriving in El Cajon, California, Fadi Shaya was far behind his 8th grade peers at Emerald Middle School. Speaking no English and with almost no formal schooling of any kind, the young teenager had only dreams and the support of his family’s determination that education is the key to success.
“I wanted to go to college so bad that staying in newcomer (a high school academic program) is not going to help me. I had to advance as much as I can just to be equal to other students,” said Fadi, 18.
He caught up to them this past spring when he received an e-mail informing him he had been admitted to the University of California Los Angeles, where he will be a pre-med major. Shaya graduated from Grossmont High in June with a 4.3 grade-point average.
Fadi vaulted to the top of a local group of strivers known as AVID students. With his father, Salim Audesh, and his mother, Hanan Essa, a community college student, in the audience, Shaya received a $25,000 scholarship from AVID, which started in San Diego in 1980 and has grown to a program serving 300,000 students in 45 states.
AVID is a college-prep program that teaches students how to take notes, prepare for college entrance exams, succeed in their school's toughest courses and meet the deadlines for college admission.
Olivia Wilson, Shaya's AVID teacher, said AVID gives students something to shoot for.
“How are you going to reach for something if you don't know it's there?” she said.
In Shaya's case, AVID also means money. The scholarship, a UCLA grant and his work-study job will cover most of his expenses, Shaya said. His family will help him cover the rest.
Shaya has said that the relatives in Iraq whom he has told about his success have never heard of UCLA, but they understand that being admitted to a university is an honor.
Shaya credits his quick advancement to six hours a day of reading in addition to his regular schoolwork. His AVID teacher gave him extra books to read when he finished his English assignments. He wrote down new words and their definitions in three-section notebooks and committed them to memory.
By the end of high school, he had taken eight Advanced Placement courses, for which high school students can earn college credit.
In a convention hall in Mission Valley, California, Fadi Shaya shares his life story and passion for education raising over 3,400 educators from all over America, to their feet. Grateful for AVID program, Shaya declares, “I am living the American dream.” A dream made possible by discipline, determination, and American opportunity.