Editor’s note: This is part of a series of stories profiling East Texas high school graduates.
Spring Hill High School senior Elie Nassar can speak five languages, but when he started high school, English was not one of them.
Because of an inability to communicate with people his freshman year after moving to Longview from Lebanon, Nassar said he felt isolated from his classmates.
“For a year or two years, I didn’t talk to anybody,” he said. “That was weird because I’m always with people laughing and all that.”
There was a culture shock in the move, Nassar said. Lebanon is a small country barely visible on a map compared with the United States.
Even school was different, he said. In Lebanon, students have no choice in their classes, and the cost of living is much higher.
“I remember my first day of school, sitting in the hallway outside the office waiting, and I didn’t know what to do,” Nassar said. “The principal took my schedule and took me to my first class. I’ll always remember that teacher. She explained to me where to go for class.
“My freshman year was one of my horrible years,” Nassar said. “All I knew how to say was ‘good morning’ and ‘I don’t know how to speak English.’ ”
Nassar said his first year-and-a-half in the U.S. was spent in his room as he never went out. Eventually, he said he knew he had to make a change.
“Now I have friends I play soccer with,” Nassar said.
Eventually, he learned English in school and by watching videos online. He added that to the list of Arabic, French, Lebanese and Spanish.
“At first, I thought I was going to fail all my classes because I didn’t speak English,” he said. “But my teachers understood that and tried to help me.”
He also worked before and after school and with a teacher who would come into his English class to work with him.
“In Lebanon, I was horrible at school. I didn’t want to be that anymore,” he said. “I went home and studied English every night.”
Nassar’s guidance counselor, Paige Childers, said he has used perseverance and hard work to overcome his language barrier, and she sees a bright future for him.
“I remember him enrolling, but I just think he was very determined,” she said. “He was not afraid, not skittish, not holding back.”
Now, despite his fears of failing school, Nassar is preparing to graduate Friday.
“It feels amazing,” he said. “After close to 15 years of school, you finally get a diploma, get out, start a new life —that feels amazing.”
After graduation, Nassar said he will study mechanical engineering at either the University of Texas at Austin or Dallas and will join the ROTC program to join the Army National Guard.
“My dad was in the Army, my mom was in the Army, my grandpa was in the Army. It’s a family tradition,” Nassar said. “I didn’t want to just go as a normal soldier. I want a little more experience.”