`Set a Goal and Work Like Hell:’ Afghan Refugee Graduates FCPS in Under a Year With College Scholarships
Mountain View High graduate Eltaf Samim traversed six countries, completed seventh, eighth and ninth grade multiple times in different nations and turned in coursework in three languages on the way to get his high school diploma this year.
The Afghan refugee left his home nation in 2015, after his father feared his work with the American military could put Eltaf and his four younger siblings at risk of being kidnapped.
“I remember it was really cold outside, my Mom was packing up, I said what is going on, she answered there is no time for questions, pack everything and go to bed,” Eltaf said.
His family’s first stop was Iran, where they divided into several cars and “pressed the gas” when they saw police officers who wanted to stop them. They hid in a basement in a small village, where a guide gave them food and water and told them to keep quiet.
Then, when night fell, it was time to walk to Turkey. In the dark. In the snow. “In very narrow places where if you slip, you are going to die,” Eltaf says. Six hours later, Eltaf and his group reached another border, with more police officers looking for refugees, who shouted at them to stop, and then started shooting when they didn’t.
“I had a giant backpack, as the oldest child, I wanted to keep eye on the younger ones,” Eltaf says. “I made sure everyone had crossed, then I did too.”
Once in Istanbul, it was time again to hide in another house.His family left Turkey in a group of 50 people who traveled over water via air boat, just ahead of a storm, battling big waves to land on the shore of Greece. Then on to Macedonia, Austria and ultimately, Germany, where Eltaf says he “finally got a bed to sleep on again.”
And Eltaf, who left Afghanistan having finished ninth grade, enrolled in school again, where he learned he would start as a seventh grader.
“I showed up without any transcripts, a little English, my own home language and no German at all,” Eltaf said. “I finished seventh grade there, then eighth grade, and my grades were extremely bad due to my poor German, they said I needed to repeat eighth grade again.”
So Eltaf did. And then he completed ninth grade for the second time, this time in Germany. After he finished tenth grade, his family was chosen for a special immigrant visa to the United States. And on March 31st, 2021, they landed at Dulles Airport in Northern Virginia.
Last May, at 20 years of age, Eltaf started at Mountain View High, an alternative school in the Fairfax County Public School System. Mountain View is designed to accommodate students older than 18 years of age.
“I was so surprised, I came here, they gave me an ID, a password and a laptop computer!” Eltaf says. “I thought, ‘This is amazing!’”
He wrote as many articles as he could for the school paper, encouraged by his teachers. Shortly after he started, Eltaf learned Mountain View had two potential graduation dates: a February graduation and a June graduation.
“As soon as I found out about that February graduation, I said I am going to make that happen,” Eltaf said.
“But they said there were more than 50 outstanding economics assignments that students had completed who had been there all year that I still needed to do.”
“I set my alarm for 4 a.m. Saturday morning and I started working. I turned them all in on Monday. Nobody expected that.”
He began his senior year in FCPS last August, and this February, Eltaf graduated, just as he’d set out to do.
Eltaf leaves with a high school diploma, a bevy of scholarships to help pay for his Northern Virginia Community College tuition next fall, and a sense of gratitude.
“When I was kid, people said America is the land of opportunity, you go there you get everything,” he said. “I have found that it is, but you have to set a goal and work like hell if you want to be successful.”