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Discovering My True Potential

By Mays Al-Maliki
March 14, 2018

The following is the speech that Mays Al-Maliki, one of our Year 3 Fellows, shared at OneGoal – Houston’s 2018 Golf for Grads fundraiser.

Hello, everyone. My name is Mays Al-Maliki, and I am a Year 3 Fellow from Stratford High School. I currently attend University of Houston – Downtown. I am a native of Iraq and moved to the United States in 2014, during the second semester of my sophomore year in high school. When we came to America, my father told me “Leaving Iraq wasn’t leaving your home, it was only a place you lived. We chose to come here and make this place our home. This is your home now.” People that I have met in the last couple of years have great thoughts about who I am and how successful I will be. They see me as an intelligent and bright student. However, just a few years ago, I don’t think they would have assumed these things about me. Not because I was not intelligent or a good student, but because I wasn’t showing those qualities as proudly as I do now – I did not yet see the expression of home I was looking for. Tonight, I would like to share my story with you.

My first day at Stratford High School, I couldn’t speak any English, and definitely did not know anything about college, how to get there or even if I should go. I felt like a mismatch amongst my peers, and I had no idea how to cope with being in a new country, nevertheless a new school. Fortunately, I met my math teacher, Ms. Shirley, who saw great potential in me. She introduced me to another teacher who she felt could really help me move forward in a better way. That teacher was Ms. Fain, the OneGoal program director. She agreed that I had great untapped potential and wanted to help me to see it too. That is how I joined OneGoal, and that is when everything began to change.

One major problem that I faced during my first year here was the language barrier. I could barely talk to my fellow students, I was always confused, and I didn’t understand anything in class. I spent most of my time waiting and trying to ask others for help. Then I began spending time with Mrs. Fain. Her support encouraged me, and eventually, I started to encourage myself. The summer of my junior year, I worked tirelessly to learn English. I spent 12 hours a day, every day, using the skills I had learned about advocating for myself and using the resources I had available, like YouTube, and by the time we were back in class, I had learned to speak English very well! My fellow classmates were very supportive and helped me to continue growing my skills. I could see myself getting better every day and finally began to plan my future. In class we learned about the SAT and how important of an exam it was if you wanted to go to college, and now that was an idea that had begun to seem well within reach … so I started preparing for it.

In our lessons, we started to learn about how to choose the right college path. There were so many schools that we could attend and Mrs. Fain helped us learn to properly research them and most importantly, apply for scholarships. She knew I did not want to be far from home and that my family would not be able to support me financially at a college or university, so she supported me as I applied to schools in Houston and other cities near here, and also provided me with letters of recommendation to send in with my scholarship applications. I was so excited the day that I received my first scholarship award letter from CITGO STEM for $1,000! I framed it and hung it up in my room, and every time I see it, I’m just overwhelmed with pride. To think that I wasn’t even going to apply for scholarships, and there I was, reading the first of many awards that let me know college was truly in reach. It was a great feeling, and Mrs. Fain was there with me step by step. Then came the greatest day ever, the day I got accepted into University of Houston – Downtown! As soon as I got my acceptance letter I knew that it was the place for me – it was close to home, and I had enough scholarships and grants to cover my full tuition and fees. The day I opened that letter will always be the most memorable day in my life and having my greatest supporter there is something that I will never forget.

Over the past three years, my involvement in OneGoal has taught me many lessons which continue to be true day by day, and I would like to share a few of those lessons with you. The first lesson would be to truly realize the importance of being a real part of the community in which we exist. Our Program Director, Mrs. Fain taught us to unite with one another and have healthy interaction, even on hard days or when we felt down. She taught us about how the strength in a community could be leveraged to empower yourself and others around you. With this lesson in mind, we began to hold each other’s hands in the hard times and also, congratulate each other as we reached milestones and continued our journey to success. We learned how to rely on ourselves and the beauty of being independent, while choosing to pour into being a part of something bigger.

Another lesson would be to appreciate the people who believe in you and encourage you, and show them that their support is worth it. I am so grateful for my parents – they always believe in me and support me and took the time to tell me how great I could be if I committed myself to choosing my home.
I remember the first day of my OneGoal class when my Program Director looked at us and said “Each of you has untapped potential.” I don’t think we knew what those words really meant at that time, or what it would be like to go through a process of tapping into that potential, but during our time together, we learned exactly that. As wonderful as this experience has been, I believe that there is still so much more to come and it is awesome to think of what lies ahead. I am currently studying chemistry and look forward to becoming a dentist one day.

There is truly so much to look forward to, like this summer, I’ll be starting a research program at the University of Houston – Downtown with Scholar’s Academy. Who would have thought three years ago that me – a non-English speaking Iraqi immigrant would be leading research at a university at the age of 19! If you had told me this back then, I would think you were crazy. But this is proof of what can happen when students have the things they truly need: a supportive teacher like Mrs. Fain; understanding classmates, like the Fellows you see here; and people like Matt Sawyer from OneGoal, who came to help me register for classes and worked with the offices on campus to keep track of my progress. This support, coupled with the love and dedication of my parents is why I am here before you today.

Thank you all for taking the time to listen to my story tonight. I hope that it has encouraged you, and makes you proud of the dreams that YOUR support helps us to make a reality. Everyone in OneGoal has a story and a dream, we have these dreams because we believe in our homes. We believe in our community. And because of leaders and teachers like Mrs. Fain, we believe that we will graduate from college and reach our highest goals, whatever they may be.