By Dedra Cordle
The disappointment Aisho Ali felt was a shared experience with her family.
For months, the tight-knit group had provided encouragement as the senior at Franklin Heights High School went after a number of scholarship opportunities and then support after she received word she had not been selected for any of them.
“It was really kind of hard to see,” said Ali’s older sister, Maryam Bafadal.
To keep the valedictorian from becoming too despondent, they told her to keep applying for scholarships and reminded her that it would work out in the end.
“We had confidence that it would be OK,” said Bafadal.
During the final round of searching, Ali came upon a scholarship from the National Honor Society that provided a chance for its chapter members to receive up to $25,000 for future studies should they become finalists. With the deadline to apply looming, Ali knew she had to take a chance.
“I figured I had nothing to lose,” she said.
Working with Clarissa Furlong, her sophomore AP biology teacher and key club adviser, they discussed how to make the student with a long history of volunteerism stand out in a field of equally accomplished students. In the end, Furlong encouraged Ali to share her passion with the advisory board.
“I told Aisho to let them know what was in her heart,” she said.
And to Furlong, it is a heart filled with wonder, compassion and determination.
“She has been making a difference in her community and her school for years, but I think she’s going to make a huge difference in the entire world.”
Having sent in her essay about the importance of community and being a positive change, Ali and her family waited for word. And waited. And waited some more. Then one morning, Bafadal received a call from Shelly Mann, the NHS co-adviser at Franklin Heights, who told her that her sister was the recipient of the $25,000 scholarship.
“I was half asleep when I answered, but then I was wide awake, my heart beating so fast,” said Bafadal.
Knowing that a surprise ceremony with a delegation from the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the parent organization of NHS, was forthcoming, Bafadal was sworn to secrecy.
“I had to tell the rest of my family, of course, but we promised not to make any mention to Aisho,” she said.
It was a promise that was hard to keep for the family that is used to sharing everything with each other.
“I was scared I would tell,” said her mother, Fatma Bafadal.
Complicating issues was Ali’s planned absence the day of the ceremony as she was set to interview with advisers with the early assurance program at Ohio State University’s College of Pharmacy. Though the meeting was postponed, Ali thought she might take the day off.
“We told her she had to go to school,” said Maryam Bafadal.
“I was very confused as to why they kept telling me I had to go,” said Ali. “I don’t make it a habit to miss school so I was very puzzled by their behavior.”
Though suspicious, Ali didn’t think much of it when an announcement went over the public address system stating that all NHS chapter members should report to the auditorium. Nor did she give it further thought when a section was filled with people in business attire.
Then, as Dr. Christine Handy, the president of the NASSP spoke of a student and an essay that “exemplified all that is great” about the NHS, a shock of sorts overcame her.
“I didn’t know what was happening,” said Ali. “I didn’t know if someone else in our chapter had sought out this scholarship or if they were really here for me.”
She said she couldn’t believe that it was her they were there for.
“It’s having trouble sinking into my brain,” she said. “This means so much to me and my family. I don’t want them to have to worry about coming up with the money to pay for school or the prospect of debt, mine or theirs, so this is a real blessing.”
Handy said Ali was chosen for the $25,000 scholarship out of 11,000 applicants and 600 finalists because she best represents the four pillars of the NHS – scholarship, leadership, service and character.
“She stood out as a person who exemplified all of those traits and more,” said Handy, referring to Ali’s work fighting the teen opioid epidemic with the Ohio Attorney General’s Teen Ambassador Board, her co-founding of the school’s UNICEF chapter (with Maryam), her academics and her future pursuits. “We know she will go far in life.”
Having been accepted to Ohio State, Ali plans to enroll in the college of pharmacy where she intends to continue her work in the fight against opioid abuse.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do exactly but it has always been my goal to help other people,” she said. “I think we need to treat others well and try our best to be a positive change.”
Furlong said she has no doubt Ali will continue to do just that.
“If she has her mind set on something, it will happen,” she said.