Chesterton Tribune



Ellias Hanna honored as 2019 ACE Award winner

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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.

A.C.E., Accepting 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.

Approximately 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.

Ellias started 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 classes.

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.

“I learned 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 so grateful.”

“Ellias is 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 have had.”

“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.”


Posted 5/7/2019




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