When Najam Hassan’s parents called upon him to leave his relatives in Pakistan and join them in America, a nervous 10-year-old boy had to move halfway around the world to an unfamiliar country, not knowing the language or culture and without any friends.
But a grateful Hassan landed at in Lakewood, and it was his formative experience there that left a deep impression on him, giving Hassan the tools he says he needed to be successful in life.
Hassan, a senior at John Carroll University, returned to Harrison on Friday and paid tribute to the school’s influence on him. Hassan helped coordinate the visit as part of the university's Boler Community Day that gives college students an opportunity to connect with youth around the Greater Cleveland area.
“I moved here when I was 10. I didn’t speak any English,” Hassan, 23, said. “It’s the work of these teachers today that are here in this facility. … That’s the reason I’m here today because of their success."
Hassan was raised in Lahore, Pakistan, which is near the border the country shares with India. Hassan entered Harrison in 1999, attended and before majoring in management and leadership at JCU’s Boler School of Business.
“Years down the road, that child may say, ‘Hey, I remember this guy. He came to help us out, and I want to be like him,’ ” Hassan said. “It’s good for mentoring and looking up to other kids that have been successful, battled the adversity and poverty. This is one way other individuals can give support.”
“Boler Community Day” is in its fifth year. On Friday, the program also visited Christ Episcopal Church in Shaker Heights and Artemus Ward Elementary School in Cleveland with around 150 JCU students and faculty participating, Hassan said.
Although it’s been a number of years since Hassan attended Harrison, many of his teachers are still at the school and remember him fondly. Jeannette Sgambellone, or “Mrs. S,” was Hassan’s English as a Second Language teacher. She has taught at the school for 13 years.
“He always showed a lot of promise and determination. We knew you’d go far. We did,” Sgambellone said turning to Hassan. “He’s been a mature kid. ... Now he’s not a kid.”
Harrison principal Philis Muth, who is in her 10th year at the school, remembers Hassan as a “great student” who was very diligent in his work. Seeing him pay a visit to Harrison makes her proud.
“It certainly makes me feel that we’re doing what we need to be doing to make successful students. That’s our whole goal, to make productive citizens,” Muth said.