The 19th Annual
A.C.E. Award was presented to Chesterton High School senior Ellias Hanna
recently, by Lorelei Weimer, of the Duneland Exchange Club.
the Challenge of Excellence, is given to a senior at CHS who has faced a
challenging time, has persevered and will graduate. The Exchange Club gives
this award to recognize students for this incredible achievement.
Ellias was born on
Sept. 7, 2001, to Dr. Hassan Hanna and Mayada Issa Hanna. He was raised in
Damascus, Syria, a beautiful, ancient city. Syria is in the Middle East,
surrounded by Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, and Lebanon.
Ellias and his
family loved living in Damascus and had a wonderful life, but, the world
changed drastically for them in 2011, when Syria caught the Arab Spring bug
sweeping across the Middle East.
1,000-armed rebel groups, with different agendas, started a revolution in
Syria. Rebels from outside countries also infiltrated Syria, and one of
these was the Islamic State from Iraq, known as ISIS. ISIS captured
extensive territory in Syria and perpetrated shocking violence. According to
CNN, as of March 2019, the fighting has led to over 400,000 Syrians being
killed, 5.7 million seeking refuge abroad, over 6.1 million displaced
internally, and an estimated 540,000 people are living in besieged areas.
As the war raged
and came closer to Damascus, it was not safe for Ellias to attend school or
for his parents to go to work. Citizens sheltered in their homes and prayed
they wouldn’t be attacked by rebels or ISIS, or be hit by missile strikes.
They lived in continual fear. Also, Ellias’s father is an orthopedic
surgeon, making him a target for kidnapping. The rebel groups sought funding
by kidnapping anyone they felt could pay a ransom.
In December 2013,
Ellias, his sister and his mother were sent to Chesterton to live with their
aunt, Dr. Hosn Maatouk. They resided in Chesterton until August 2014, when
they returned to Damascus because they thought the fighting was subsiding.
Unfortunately, that was not so and his family, including his father, moved
back to Chesterton in August of 2015.
Ellias and his
family left their country, their family, friends, their home and belongings,
and his parents abandoned their careers. They settled in a new country where
the culture and the language were unknown to them. They speak Arabic, and
when they arrived in the United States, knew very little English. Plus,
Ellias’s dad, and his mom, who is a pharmacist, are not allowed to practice
in our country, unless they take all the medical and pharmaceutical exams in
English. His parents were two years away from retiring in Syria and had to
start all over again in the U.S. with different careers.
school as a freshman at CHS and didn’t speak or read English. He used his
phone to translate the words he read, would memorize the words and then
re-read his textbooks. He would also stay after class and ask his teachers
many questions for better clarity. He spent almost all his free time after
school doing homework, which meant he couldn't participate in afterschool
activities. Despite all of these challenges, Ellias received straight A’s
every semester after his first semester, and managed to take AP and honor
Ellias said moving
to the U.S. has been challenging, but having his aunt, uncle and cousins
already in Chesterton helped him transition from the Syrian culture to the
U.S. And, having his father, mother and sister here helped him through this
challenging time and be successful in school.
perseverance, and I look at obstacles as something I must overcome to
achieve my goals.” said Ellias. “I also learned that with hard work and
determination I can overcome almost any obstacle I encounter.”
Ellias’ parents say
they are “so proud of their son's determination and his commitment to
excellence, and how well he speaks English.”
“I first met Ellias
as a 9th grader,” said Mrs. Gretchen Arthur, a counselor at CHS. “Entering
high school is challenging but coming as a refugee from a war-torn country
is something I can't imagine. He is a hard worker with unbelievable
determination. I learned the power of the human spirit from Ellias, and I am
hard-working and takes great pride in his schoolwork,” said Mr. Tom Pellar,
a CHS math teacher. “I enjoyed having Ellias in class. He’s pleasant, was a
positive influence in class, and raised the level of effort of his
classmates by his excellent work ethic. He was one of the best students I
“I wish no child,
teenager, and family ever had to go through what Ellias, his family and
millions of other families have experienced,” said Weimer. “I realized after
hearing Ellias’ story how thankful we should be for what we have, and we
should never take today for granted, because tomorrow is unknown.”
Ellias and his
family still have a long road ahead and will face more challenges, but
Ellias also knows they must celebrate their successes, continue to look
forward and remain hopeful about the future.
Ellias and his
family also have cause for celebration. Last year his family was granted
asylum by the U.S. government, and in March of this year, his family
received their green cards, which are permanent U.S. resident cards.
The future is
bright for Ellias. He will graduate from CHS in May and attend Indiana
University in the fall. His dream is to become an orthopedic surgeon like
his father. “My dad is an inspiration to me. I witnessed my dad’s courage
when he provided medical help to the victims of the Syrian war,” Ellias
said. “My goal is to make a positive difference in our world and being a
doctor will help me achieve this goal.”