Centennial High School sophomore Hussein Yasser is a remarkable student and his path to Peoria has been equally remarkable.

Yasser was born and raised in Iraq when, at age 8, he was severely injured by a land mine. The explosion cost him his left hand and right eye, in addition to damaging his left eye and leaving him in a coma. Thanks to an organization called Healing the Children, Yasser was brought to Peoria.

After a brief return home to Iraq, Yasser has been back in Peoria and not only studying at Centennial, but thriving.

Yasser’s efforts to learn English brought him to the Wigwam Resort in Litchfield Park recently for the Office of English Language Acquisition Services’ annual conference. Each year, the group recognizes a handful of English Language Learners’ success stories. This year, Yasser received that honor and a standing ovation from the hundreds in attendance.

“(Yasser) has confronted obstacles neither you nor I could imagine,” said Mary Pedraza, his language immersion teacher. “But he has never allowed his circumstances to be an excuse.”

Yasser was one of nine students chosen to receive the honor. He told the audience he was thankful to his school and friends for helping him find his way and grateful to have the opportunity.

“This has been an amazing chance for me, to see America for myself,” he said. “Thank you all so much.”

Pedraza said Yasser is an exceptionally confident young man and that showed in his address to the audience, which was part acceptance speech and part stand-up comedy routine.

“My friends sometimes ask what my life would be like if I was never in that accident,” he said. “I tell them I would be home in Iraq and in one piece, if you know what I mean.”

Jokes aside, Yasser said that accident has afforded him an opportunity he otherwise never would’ve had.

“It allowed me to go to America,” he said. “And to meet great new friends who would do anything for me.”

Pedraza said she believes Yasser has a bright future ahead of him.

“He is a self-assured young man who is determined to go far in life. It’s been a privilege to have him in my class.”

Jeff Dempsey may be reached at 623-876-2531 or jdempsey@yourwestvalley.com.

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