TURNING ADVERSITY INTO OPPORTUNITY

How one Ridleian overcame persecution and earned a full university scholarship to support his ambition to transform our globe.

It was nightfall when sixteen-year-old Asmatullah (Asmat) arrived at the Vancouver border in summer of 2017. He had just undertaken a solo journey from California to reach the Canadian land crossing after learning that the United States would no longer have him as a student. Thousands of miles from his home in Afghanistan and unable to return to his family, Asmat made the bold decision to seek refugee status and hope for a better future in the ‘Great White North’.

The original plan to study in North America had begun as an exciting prospect for Asmat. As a uniquely remarkable student, he accepted a scholarship to a military academy in California for his Grade 10 year. However, when his funding and student visa were revoked, he found himself in limbo between a country where he was no longer welcomed and a home nation that would suspect him a conspirator.

“If I hadn’t come to Canada and I hadn’t crossed the border that night, I would have returned back to Afghanistan and who knows if I’d be alive now,” reflects Asmat on what might have happened if things hadn’t gone to plan. Soon after arriving to Canada, he was connected with social services and provided with housing in Ontario, but as a minor he struggled to fulfill his basic needs without a legal guardian; Once walking himself to a public high school in East York, Toronto where he unsuccessfully attempted to enroll.

Enter Cory Miller, Guidance and University Counsellor at Branksome Hall (an all-girls CAIS independent school), who upon learning of the displaced teen’s story felt compelled to act. “Asmat and I first met on a sunny day at the Toronto waterfront and I took him to a Blue Jays game,” Miller recalls about their first encounter. “From our initial conversations and [seeing] his academic records, it was clear that he was very keen to continue his education,” adds the woman who became Asmat’s legal guardian only weeks after setting eyes on him. “It was an opportunity to help someone who clearly has so much potential, it felt like a very easy decision to make. Helping a Muslim refugee in this day and age of growing xenophobia felt like my small gesture of social justice.”

Asmat and Cory meeting for the first time at a Toronto Blue Jays home game.

Partnering with Asmat and his parents back in Afghanistan, Cory swiftly reached out to her colleagues at fellow independent schools to see if anyone would be willing to welcome an additional boarder on short notice. Cory knew the school would need to be able to support Asmat’s talents and ambitions so one of her initial calls was to Julie Cameron, Director of Admissions at Ridley College who says she clearly recalls being profoundly moved by Asmat’s story because it harkened back to Ridley’s deep service-oriented mentality. “Asmat is an example of why we do what we do as educators,” Julie underscores. With the support of Headmaster Kidd, Asmat was soon accepted to Ridley College as a late addition to Dean’s House residence.

Prefect-led Pep Rally on Opening Day 2018

In less than a full academic year, Asmat began to soar. He enrolled in the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme, learned his fifth language, became an active member of Cadet Corps leadership, went on a service trip to Malawi, joined clubs committed to human rights, took up rowing as well as Model U.N. and Debating. It’s no wonder then that his peers voted him in as Prefect for the 2018-19 academic year.

“Coming to Ridley…everything exceeded my expectations; from the diversity in the community to studying with such an amazing and smart cohort and from the volume of opportunities available to academic intensity at the school especially with the IB programme,” he said enthusiastically about his first year at Ridley. “I felt overwhelmed in the beginning, but with support that I got from the faculty, staff and my friends, I was able to take on every challenge, thrive and have fun.”

On a promising trajectory already and working with Ridley’s University and Guidance Counsellor, Michael Maki, post-secondary institutions began to take notice of Asmat’s undeniable potential. In mid-February 2019 one university in particular stepped up to make this new Canadian’s dreams come true. While on what he believed was a Huron University campus tour and interview with its President, Dr. Barry Craig, Asmat was surprised with acceptance and a full, four-year undergraduate scholarship—the largest in the school’s history.

Hear from Asmat about his experience at Ridley and excitement for Huron University.

Beaming even days following the news and in his consistently humble way, Asmat reports that he has decided to pursue a double-major, combining Leadership, Governance and Ethics with Economics. He also plans to study photography while obtaining a business certificate in from Harvard University. “I want to get into politics [and] I’m committed to transforming our globe because I believe in equity and equity of opportunity for everyone and currently that does not exist…it’s just going to open the door for much development in this world,” the soon-to-be Ridley graduate explains. He elaborates that his intended studies are all to support his vision of one day working with the United Nations as a part of the security council or on peace-keeping missions oversees. “I think Asmat definitely has the makings of a statesman, he cares about mankind and improving circumstances for all of humanity. He has the intellectual and social skills to plan strategically, negotiate policy, and hopefully peace in the Middle East. He articulates that aspiration regularly,” Cory reinforces.

“What’s most inspiring about Asmat is not just his list of accomplishments and achievements, but also his positive outlook on life in spite of the challenges he has faced on his journey,” says Headmaster Ed Kidd, adding, “He should be an example of resilience and perseverance to us all.  As a community we are so proud of him and I am confident he will continue to flourish (and inspire others to flourish) at Huron.”

Headmaster Kidd and Julie Cameron welcoming Asmat to Ridley College.

Asmat isn’t shy in expressing his gratitude to Ridley College, Huron University (and of course, Cory) for providing him with educational opportunities he wouldn’t otherwise had. “For me Ridley is far more than just a place where I go to school. Ridley is an experience. Apart from the academic skills and knowledge that I have acquired at Ridley, my experience at Ridley has helped me grow spiritually and find my real self in many different ways. Ridley has taught me how to handle my emotions and fight till the end, until I succeed.”

“If you are looking for somewhere to flourish and grow Ridley is the right place for you.” – Asmat ’19

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