“What an incredible year it has been!” exclaimed Principal Karen Jurjevich at Branksome’s annual year-end Green Carpet Celebration.
Grade 7 to 11 students, along with their families and teachers, celebrated achievements in the areas of leadership, commitment, character, Athletics and the Arts. “You have demonstrated your skills, knowledge and thoughtfulness repeatedly throughout the year, and done so in a manner that reflects our school’s values: sense of community, inclusiveness, creativity and making a difference,” said Ms Jurjevich.
This year’s Green Carpet guest speaker also embodies Branksome’s values and delivered a powerfully uplifting message of optimism and resilience. Asmatullah (Asmat) Azizi Arab grew up in Kabul, Afghanistan, and by the age of 14, already knew his purpose in life—to shape a better world, especially for impoverished children.
For his Grade 10 year, Asmat was accepted to the Army and Navy Academy military school in California and obtained a US student visa. “I felt I was getting a step closer to reaching my goals,” said Asmat. “Little did I know about the dangers that were awaiting me.”
A few months after starting school in America, Asmat’s family received a death threat. “The letter was from the largest terrorist group in Afghanistan – the Taliban,” said Asmat. “Because I was studying at a military school in the US, the Taliban believed I was being trained as a spy.”
After completing Grade 10, Asmat says he was not re-enrolled for the following year for a multitude of reasons, including the travel ban put in place by the Trump administration on Muslim countries. “I would have to return to Afghanistan but it would be the same as signing my death sentence,” explained Asmat. With no option to return home and no student visa for the US, Asmat fled to Canada. “Having no other way to stay alive and safe, I decided to cross the border into Canada and seek asylum,” said Asmat.
After a number of initial challenges, Asmat was transferred to Toronto and through family friends he met Cory Miller, a Branksome Guidance Counsellor. “I was asked if I could help and I thought to myself, ‘I have a roof over my head and the skills to provide support, so why not?’” said Ms Miller, in her introduction of Asmat to the Green Carpet audience. Ms Miller secured a scholarship to Ridley College for Asmat so he could finish high school but, in order to do that, he needed a local guardian or sponsor. “I am proud to say that he has become a member of my family,” said Ms Miller who, without a second thought, became Asmat’s Canadian legal guardian.
“If she had not trusted me, believed in me and fought to get me to Ridley College, I simply wouldn’t be here today,” said Asmat. “I came to Canada to fight for my life, I came here because I have a vision for the future of my country and I had promised myself that no matter what, I will help transform Afghanistan to be a stable country,” he said.
Asmat will be able to carry out his inspiring vision with his continued drive and support from caring individuals and communities, including Huron University College, where Asmat has received a full scholarship to pursue postsecondary studies this fall.
Before ending his address to a standing ovation, Asmat left the audience with one final thought. “I want you all to always remember this: you have the capacity to do more than you think you can. You just need to let your thoughts freely wander to find your true passion and place in this world. That’s when you become unstoppable and you can truly begin to make a better world for yourself and everybody around you.”