Student Speaker: Naji Ali
Associate in Science degree in General Engineering
When Naji Ali immigrated to the U.S. from Syria in 2013, he and his family had only $600 between the six of them – his father, mother, brothers, and sister. It was a long journey for 19-year-old Ali, a Syrian-born Palestinian refugee. He left his lifelong home in Syria, having never seen Palestine, and headed to a country vastly different from his own.
Ali grew up in Syria’s Yarmouk Camp, a Palestinian refugee camp in the capital city of Damascus. As you walk the streets of Damascus, one of the oldest capital cities still in existence, you will smell jasmine in the air, he said, and the camp, his home, is more like a city. The hospitality and generosity of the Syrian people made an impact on Ali, and he looks back fondly and with admiration on the city and the people who gave him and his family refuge.
When a Syrian army airstrike took place close to Ali’s home in 2013, his family decided it was time to leave Syria and come to the U.S. It was a difficult process, but all of his family members finally made it to Lynnwood, Wash. Ali arrived in the U.S. knowing only basic conversational English, like “hi” and “how are you?”.
He knew right away that he would need to learn English, and started taking English as A Second Language classes at Edmonds CC. Ali also began looking for a job to help him learn and improve his English and earn money for expenses. He has a strong work ethic, and was a young entrepreneur in Syria, working at the age of 14 in a scarf market, and then eventually, selling school supplies and stationery outside of his school.
Ali continued to take ESL classes and work, first at a restaurant and then at a retail store.
“Day after day, my English started getting better and better,” Ali said. “I continued with ESL, took placement tests, and I started taking college math classes and began my college journey.”
He also began working in the college’s International Student Services office and said it was a good opportunity for him to show others who Syrians really are.
“I wanted to be the reflection of Syria at this college,” Ali said. “I know I’m Palestinian. I’m proud to be Palestinian, but I can be a good reflection of Syria to change this idea of what it’s like. It’s not all about war and extremes.”
Ali has thought of Edmonds CC as his “safe zone.” He cherishes the experiences he’s had and the friendships he’s made at the college. At 23, Ali will be graduating with his Associate in Science degree in General Engineering, and is looking forward to transferring to University of Washington to study electrical engineering.
Ali’s advice to the graduating class, “Work harder than anybody else around you. If you have ambition, nothing will stop you. Your dream will break all the walls. Know who you are, and don’t apologize for it.”
Good evening, Tritons!
Hello, bonjour, privyet, hola, anyong ha se yo, merhaba, konetou, nǐ hǎo, xin chào!
If you ask me what languages I’m speaking, I would say I’m speaking the language of Edmonds Community College. The Tritons’ language.
Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh. In my native language of Arabic, this means, ”Peace be upon you all no matter where you come from or what language you speak.
On behalf of the class of 2017, it is with honor, that I welcome all faculty, alumni, friends, family, and distinguished guests to Edmonds Community College’s 2017 Commencement Ceremony.
We all have a story about how we made it here. Some of us came from long distances to study as international students or immigrants. Others have had the opportunity to grow up in such a beautiful region like the Pacific Northwest.
My name is Naji Ali, and I have the honor of sharing my journey with you tonight. “Naji” means “the survivor” in Arabic. I have come here from Syria. And no, I am not a refugee; rather, I am an immigrant.
Now, while it might sound easy to come to the United States and graduate from a community college, for me, it was a long, scary, worrisome, and hard journey to this stage and to receiving my associate’s degree.
I came to the U.S. in 2014 from the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in the Syrian capital of Damascus.
I am a Syrian-born Palestinian refugee who grew up in the camp. It was called a refugee camp, but for me, it was like a little Palestine, where everyone knew their neighbors.
They treated each other like family with such hospitality and generosity. I will never forget their kindness.
On Dec. 16, 2012, during a cold winter, a Syrian army airstrike took place close to my house, and I realized it was time for my family to leave.
The day before we left, I walked through the city of Damascus, and I smelled the jasmine in the air. I had a feeling that I would never see this city again, and the next day I left what I called home and one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
We left our accomplishments, hopes, and dreams behind and fled to safety and peace.
After a year-long journey, we were able to come to the U.S, where my family found a small apartment in Lynnwood. I was eager to build a place I could call home, where I could be happy. This is what we like to call our right to “freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
When we arrived here, I asked my brother the same question every single day, “When am I going back to school?” I was frustrated and wanted to pursue my education.
So I applied to Edmonds Community College and got in!
Yeah! It is the best place in the world!
My safe zone!
Repeat after me Edmonds CC! Edmonds CC! Edmonds CC!
At Edmonds CC, I was blessed to meet my new friends. Friends that I now consider brothers, who spoke about and offered friendship in my language and other languages, such as Mohamed and Rihab from Libya, Klajdi from Albania, and E.J. from Nigeria. I have listened to their stories, and with them, I shared mine.
I have met friends through work; at my current job in the International Student Services office, and at previous jobs, like my part-time job washing dishes at IHOP. I gotta say: Those free pancakes were so good!
During my time at IHOP I was surrounded by non-English speakers, but I still had the motivation to learn English. I told myself I will speak English, because I need it to succeed in my goals.
I have gone from taking ESL classes to graduating with my Associate of Science degree in General Engineering. Now, I am here on a stage giving a speech about my life experience. Isn’t god great? Can you see how happy I am?
I really love it here in the U.S. and at Edmonds CC. It is not always perfect, but it is a life I am thankful for.
I do not know what life has in store for me. I also cannot tell you what life is going to look like for you after graduation; but I can tell you that if you have made it to this ceremony, then you can make it anywhere!
My advice to you is to work harder than anybody else around you.
If you have ambition, nothing will stop you. Your dream will break all the walls.
Know who you are, and don’t apologize for it.