Thursday, June 14, 2018

Omar Hussein: His Father Would Be Incredibly Proud

The American Dream never dies. Here’s how one remarkable recent Spring Woods High School graduate summed up his childhood, which was marked by family tragedy and great personal achievement:

My name is Omar Hussein.

I am the youngest son of two immigrants – a Mexican mother and a Pakistani father.

I am smart. I am driven.

And when I was in kindergarten, my entire life changed when my father was brutally murdered in our family store. Within a matter of hours, our family of four became a family of three, and I had to grow up – fast!

When Omar walked across the stage at Don Coleman Coliseum on May 26 and received his Class of 2018 diploma, he had exceeded the expectations of many of his own teachers and even astonished family members.

This fall, Hussein enters the freshman class at the University of Chicago, one of only a few EMERGE program seniors in Spring Branch ISD to get full-scholarship awards to their “dream” colleges.

Admitted to the University of Chicago by early decision, Hussein had the time in the months leading up to May graduation to let many others learn about his personal and school journey. It’s worth the time to hear.

His father, Saeed Hussein, was murdered at the family’s electronics store in southeast Houston after Hurricane Katrina. An attacker has never been found. Omar was just 5 years old. He was then left with his mom, an older brother, and a grandmother.

He has lived in Spring Branch ISD with his mom, Martha Hussein, and his grandmother, Ines Cervantes, through school years. He’s a graduate of Westwood Elementary, Cornerstone Academy and Spring Woods High.

In his youth, he was known as a bit of a class clown, but smart enough to get regular A’s. “I’m sure my teachers would have appreciated a different me. I managed to get work done, but they would have appreciated me far more if I wasn’t so talkative. I was pretty energetic, and I moved around a lot,” Omar recalls.

The fun loving Omar hid another young person. “I became a provider for my mother, and a stable force of positivity in our home. While school was the place where I focused my energies, I often struggled to balance my time between academics and working to support my own family,” he told an audience at one public event.

Omar needed no lessons in time management. As he grew up, he helped in the family store, Party Piñatas, on Gessner. By age 12, he was a tutor for Kumon Learning in math and reading. A positive, natural ability to connect with others then led to a middle-school age counselor position at Memorial Drive United Methodist Church, where he worked for several years.

Before being chosen for the EMERGE student program, Omar viewed his college prospects as low. “Texas A&M or UT, those were out of my reach,” he recalls thinking.

EMERGE program support and encouragement from a program manager, Sherese Woolard, changed his view. He upped his high school game with AP classes, the Debate team and Health Occupation Students of America (HOSA) program at Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center.

The University of Chicago, where he aims to be a successful pre-medical student, was off his radar completely until he learned that a cousin was a student there.

“I didn’t know that the University of Chicago existed before my junior year,” he said. The university flew him up for a visit and interview. After a night in a dorm room, he was sold on the Hyde Park campus and the Windy City.

When the early decision notice came last December, he drove immediately to his mom’s piñata store. “I told her that I had been accepted, and she was in tears. It was a great moment in my life, and it made me so proud that she was so happy,” he said.

His father would be extremely proud that his son was headed to a top-level college, Omar believes. “A child achieving his dream is something that any parent can support. My father would have been overjoyed that I can live out my dream,” he says.

The Spring Woods High teachers and other adults who know Omar well consider him an amazing story. EMERGE manager Sherese Woolard is using the word “exceptional” to describe his drive and commitment.

“Despite many significant challenges that Omar has had to overcome in the last 18 years of his life, Omar persevered and pushed himself to achieve a level of academic success that is truly remarkable,” she said.

“I was so impressed with how hard Omar worked completing applications, crafting a strong resume, and revising essays often, all while balancing a demanding work schedule and full course load,” Woolard also said.

Omar is not the only good news EMERGE story in SBISD. More than 40 seniors participating in the program made decisions to attend colleges or universities nationwide, ranging from well-known East Coast names to a number of top colleges in the Midwest, West and here in Texas.

The EMERGE program operates in several Houston-area public school districts, including SBISD.

“What we do in EMERGE is ensure that students who have great potential are able to navigate systemic barriers to fully realize the potential in their lives,” Woolard said. “The hardest part of this job is seeing students who have done everything ‘right’ face the barriers that come with applying to college as a first-generation and/or low-income student in our country. The most gratifying part of this job is seeing students take on those barriers, overcome them, and despite the odds, achieve success. Omar is the epitome of this success.”

Spring Woods High Debate Team’s instructor, Victoria Beard, worked with Omar for just two years, but he did “more than many have accomplished in four years.” Omar earned Special Distinction for winning his tournaments in Congressional Debate. He also competed in extemporaneous speaking.

“Omar is not just an excellent debater, he has a compassionate heart for his fellow man,” Beard said. “He mentored and tutored novices on my team, and genuinely cares for each one of them. He is passionate about volunteering in the community. Omar is truly one in a million. I know that no matter what path he chooses in life, he will be successful and make a huge difference.”

Woolard agrees. “Omar has set a standard that I hope will continue to inspire and encourage other students to reach for the stars and advocate for the support they need to see their dreams become reality,” she said.

Omar is both nervous and excited about his future that begins this fall. “I am excited to graduate and to leave Spring Woods High School, but I’m nervous to move to a new city, and live in a dorm, and learn to study for that level of academics,” he says.

His family is helping him forward focus. “I will be upset to leave here and leave my family, but they have been so excited for me, and they view my decision as an opportunity of a lifetime. I’m more nervous than them!”


Post a Comment

Do you have feedback? Tell us.