Sunday, May 22, 2016

Maysaa Madhat Ibrahim: Cuyamaca College graduate proves that nothing is impossible

More than 2,100 students will be receiving degrees and certificates at the Grossmont College and Cuyamaca College commencements on June 1 and 2. Here's the story of one amazing graduate.

Maysaa Madhat Najih Ibrahim
Maysaa Madhat Najih Ibrahim is all about overcoming challenges. Single mother. Refugee. No matter. Ibrahim is one of six valedictorians graduating at Cuyamaca College’s 38th commencement ceremony on June 1. She’ll be headed to San Diego State University in the fall on her way toward becoming a Spanish teacher. 

“I want to encourage students, single mothers and refuges to continue their education because nothing is impossible to achieve with hard work,” Ibrahim said. 

Mission accomplished. 

“She is a superb role model,” said Patricia Santana, Chair of the Cuyamaca College World Languages Department. “She is focused, persevering, and has a kind and humble demeanor. I could tell immediately that she would reach her dreams.” 

Ibrahim lived most of her life in Baghdad, but in 2006 was forced to flee the Iraqi capital for Damascus, Syria, with her baby daughter when the security situation became intolerable. The refugee moved to El Cajon in 2011 and almost immediately began her educational journey here. 

“It was hard,” Ibrahim said. “I didn’t know much about the English language. And the culture was different.” 

Her first order of business was going to adult school to learn English. Then, in 2012, she enrolled in a Cuyamaca College continuing education course. By the spring of 2013, she was a full-time student. 

“I realized you had to get a certificate or a degree to get a good job, to do something for yourself. You have to have an education. It is so important.” 

She also was intent on setting an example for her daughter. 

She thrived immediately. Majoring in Spanish, a language she learned in school growing up in Iraq, Ibrahim became a straight-A student and quickly set her sights on becoming a Spanish teacher. Along the way, she held down several jobs, first through a work-study program at the Writing Center, where Ibrahim set appointments and helped students who didn’t speak English well but could speak Arabic or Spanish. That was followed by a job as a Spanish tutor at the LRC Center, and then in the EOPS office as CARE Peer Advisor working with single mothers.  

“She was an exquisite student in my advanced Spanish class,” Santana said. 

It wasn’t easy. 

“I worked hard to balance between studying, working and taking care of my daughter,” said Ibrahim, who is 38. “It is very challenging situation for a single mother to put all three together. I didn’t have much time to waste, and not enough time to study. So I usually would wake up at 4 a.m. to finish my homework, study for a test or to finish writing a paper.  

Yet here she is, graduating with a perfect degree grade point average of 4.0 and preparing to transfer to San Diego State University this fall. 

“It is getting a lot easier for me now,” Ibrahim said. 

Her heart will remain at Cuyamaca College. 

“My teachers were not only my teachers, they were also my friends,” Ibrahim said. “They helped me. Always encouraged me all the time. The learning environment at Cuyamaca I like very much. You are not alone. You have a lot of support.”