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Mahde Abusaleh, promotion major at the Crater Renaissance Academy, had to complete his final year in Saudi Arabia after his temporary visa expired. (Photo submitted)

Crater High’s promotion major isn’t worried about his senior year moving to the Middle East

Mahde Abusaleh does not want to go into details about the bullying he suffered as a dark-skinned Arab-speaking boy from Saudi Arabia who showed up about a month after the first day of school as a eighth grade student at Scenic Middle School in Central Point.

Things happened, names were called, disgusting words shot at close range. Intent: pain. And that was only part of what made Abusaleh’s first year in the United States – what he now calls the most difficult of his life – practically intolerable. The death of his nephew and 10-year-old grandmother and a language barrier that for about a year proved impenetrable also weighed heavily on him.

“I was thrilled to see the school,” he said, “but at the same time, not being able to say what I mean, it was like the feeling of being in prison technically. You’re just locked out. You cannot express your thoughts. I haven’t even had any friends all year.

But Abusaleh endured. An English development teacher at Scenic helped him master the language, as did his father, Kadhem Abusaleh, who was fluent in English and had been a professor at Oregon State University.

In his final year at Crater Renaissance Academy, Abusaleh was riding the home stretch, his longtime personal goal of being a valedictorian so close he could taste it. And that’s when he found out his temporary visa was about to expire and he would have to finish high school in Saudi Arabia.

So three months ago, Abusaleh moved 7,800 miles to the Middle East, where he shares a house with his mother, father and two of his four brothers. However, the change of scenery had no impact on his vision for the future, and as the Central Point School District – like all districts across the state – is required to provide an online learning option to his students, Abusaleh simply picked up where he left off. , using perhaps the most distant example of Oregon’s comprehensive distance education.

On Thursday, June 10, Abusaleh’s high school trip from Saudi Arabia to Central Point and vice versa ends with an unconventional farewell typical of this bizarre school year: he’ll unfold his laptop, head over to cra .district6.org and watch via live video, his co-adjutant Aubrey Welburn read their two speeches in front of a crowd at Dutch Meyer Stadium. At Central Point, the ceremony will begin at 8 p.m. that Thursday; in Saudi Arabia, it will be 6 a.m. on Friday.

His plans for graduation day? “I’ll probably just watch my speech,” he said.

Abusaleh is neither surprised by his accomplishments – 4.18 GPA, National Honor Society – nor particularly impressed by the conditions under which he carried them out. His standards were high as soon as he entered the RCAF, despite the fact that he was going to learn everything in his second language.

Sylvia Williamson, English development teacher at ARC, said it was clear to her from the first day she met him that Abusaleh was special.

“He really, really took charge of his program, choosing courses and teachers, and so many teachers know him,” Williamson said. “He came here his first year with an incredible amount of courage and enthusiasm.”

And motivation. Williamson’s first impression of Abusaleh was that of a boy completely and wholeheartedly committed to succeeding in all the courses he took in order to finish with the best GPA, quite a goal given that he still had a lot to learn. on the English language upon arrival at the RCAF. The laser focus with which he attacked this goal, Williamson said, was something to see, but it also became clear that there was more to Abusaleh than that.

“So the main thing I noticed was his motivation,” she said. “And then just his enthusiasm. It was that purpose, that motivation mixed with that wonder and that curiosity and that joy of learning. And also his politeness. How incredibly polite and kind he is. When he asks you “How are you today?” He really means: “How are you today?” He really means it. He is so sincere. It’s an impressive mix of that ambition with so much humility.

His experience here, including that rough start to Scenic, probably has something to do with it. Abusaleh only refers in general terms to the abuse he suffered in that lonely first year of school. He doesn’t consider himself a victim, and while being interviewed for this story even his most vague descriptions of his torment were quickly followed by a request to please, no, don’t put that, or whatever. Instead, he prefers to remember those who helped him succeed, the ELD teacher who took him under her wing, the faculty members who helped fend off bullies and the classmates who eventually warmed him up, some of whom are now among his best. friends.

But this first year was difficult and especially without friends. Even if another student had something in common with him, Abusaleh said, it didn’t matter because they couldn’t talk to each other about it. So at every lunch break, her father would go to school so that they could eat together. And talk, of course. Kadhem Abusaleh, who holds a doctorate in educational foundations from Oregon State University, also helped his son with his homework.

“He spent a lot of time helping me figure everything out, about class, homework,” Abusaleh said of his father.

But Abusaleh said the person most responsible for her eventual mastery of the English language was Holly Campbell, a former ELD teacher at Scenic who has since retired.

“She was the main person who taught me real English,” said Abusaleh. “She even helped me with other classes. That’s why I appreciate her very much, because she was the first person to spend time in school just to help me.

Once Abusaleh became fluent in English and the “social language,” Williamson said, he had no trouble making friends at the RCAF. He is so friendly, so outgoing that he quickly became a popular student. Which only made the movement even more difficult.

Abusaleh said he always stays in touch with a few of his friends at Central Point, including one on a regular basis. His life in Saudi Arabia is much more like the COVID-19 bunker experience than the active social life of a typical teenager. It can hardly be avoided. For one thing, he couldn’t afford to drop his grades if he wanted to be a valedictorian. Plus, the 10 hour time difference turned him into a vampire.

Sure, high school students from coast to coast have grown accustomed to sitting in front of a screen for hours on end, but few have experienced the joy of starting a live history lesson on Zoom at 11:30 p.m. start of the course, and it lasted until 00:50

“It’s hard, it’s really hard,” he said, sneering at the thought of struggling with sleep during those midnight lectures. “I sometimes have to share my room with my brothers too, so I just have to take my laptop and go out… and put on my headphones because I don’t want the noise to go out, and just sit there in front of the screen being tired. . I’m like, I want to sleep but I have to be there.

But he won’t be here for long if everything goes according to plan. With a major goal already achieved, Abusaleh has little time to enjoy his victory as an outsider before moving on to his next: Oregon State University, where he plans to double the major in nuclear engineering and marine biology. To get there, he will have to get there. This means a critical interview at the US Embassy in Saudi Arabia.

This interview will take place on the very day of the graduation ceremony. So, as most of his classmates close one chapter in their lives and celebrate the dawn of the next, Abusaleh will ask for a green card and a chance to continue his education.

It will be the most important reunion of his young life, but if Abusaleh worries about it, he does a good job of hiding it.

“I think I’m ready.”

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com

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