When Mohammed Abousaleh looked at his computer screen, he couldn’t believe his eyes.
Confirmation of an $80,000 scholarship to the University of Victoria stared back at him – two weeks later, it still doesn’t seem real.
“When I first saw it I didn’t really believe what I was seeing,” the Grade 12 Oak Bay High student said. “I just sat there (and) looked at the screen, it was a bit overwhelming. It took a little while to sink in.”
As Oak Bay High school’s lone nominee for the national Schulich Leader Scholarship – awarded to students possessing two of three criteria in outstanding leadership in the community, academic excellence and financial need – the straight-A student said the scholarship will serve as additional motivation to further realize his goals.
“The biggest thing is living up to what it means. You can be awarded for certain things but if you just kind of plateau after that, it doesn’t really mean much,” Abousaleh said. “You have to keep the momentum going. My whole life has been about self-improvement. I’m always trying to challenge myself more and more and this is going to give me great motivation to do well in university.”
In addition to his academic pedigree, the 18-year-old, who came from Syria when he was six, said it’s important to be a leader outside the classroom as well. He volunteers on student council and in leadership class, as a reading buddy and peer tutor for his fellow students and helps with community fundraisers including the Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock.
“One of the things I like about this school specifically that hit me hard, was the Cops for Cancer they do at the beginning of every year. The passion I saw at the school was overwhelming, everyone was united and it was something I didn’t really see in a school before,” he said. “This kind of unity was kind of new to me.”
One of a handful of volunteers who knew the more than $50,000 total students had raised for the Canadian Cancer Society fundraiser in 2013 before it was announced, he was proud to be among those to unveil the figure when the riders biked into the assembly in October of 2013.
That unity with his fellow students continues with his subsequent role as valedictorian, as voted by his peers, despite being in only his second year at the school. It’s a camaraderie principal Dave Thomson has witnessed first hand.
“He is just an all around, really neat kid. You don’t become the valedictorian for a grad class, given the fact a grad class votes, without having an impact on your peers and having them look at (him) as someone who represents them,” he said. “He is (also) a very high academic achiever, if he gets a 95 it’s a surprise, it’s a low mark. He is off the charts academically and brings a whole bunch of mature approaches to the table.”
The scholarship, awarded for academic excellence in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, parters with 20 universities in Canada and five in Israel. Abousaleh will be recognized by the Board of Education May 20 and credits his parents for his success as he prepares to finish off his graduating year strong and pursue a computer science degree with a minor in business at UVic, something he said will be a little more comfortable now with this scholarship.
“It takes a huge load off and makes it so I can pursue what I’m interested in. This is one big thing most people have to worry about and I thought I would have to worry about, but now it’s off he table,” he said. “It’s a new standard to live up to and transcend. … I think I’m going to enjoy it a lot.”