Layla Al-Zubi rises from “special needs” to Indian Hill Class of 2017 valedictorian

Layla Al-Zubi rises from “special needs” to Indian Hill Class of 2017 Valedictorian
Posted on 06/16/2017
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By Natalie Brady, Communications Intern

Layla Al-Zubi, Valedictorian of Indian Hill High School’s Class of 2016, has a unique story to tell about her early years, one that pulls at the heartstrings while also captivating the listener with how much fortitude this young woman has to be where she is today.

Layla first came to the United States from Jordan when she was only six years old. As a six-year-old, Layla remembers being very confused during the move - she said, “I didn’t really understand the concept of moving countries, let alone that we were crossing a big ocean to do so.” When she and her family arrived at the airport, they weren’t greeted very warmly. Her dad was taken away to be interviewed because he shared the same name with a man the police were looking for, so she and her family were forced to miss their next flight as he was being interviewed, while they slept on benches and were regarded with distrust by those who passed. Layla was overwhelmed by the new culture, the new language that she only knew a few words and phrases of, and the glances her mother kept getting for her head scarf.

Layla Al-Zubi at graduationAdjusting to life here in the United States was much different than the life Layla was used to in Jordan. She described how well off they were in Jordan, and how at first in the U.S., she and her family lived in a one bedroom apartment and slept on the same mattress. “I didn't have toys anymore,” Layla remembered, “Life here was very different from life back in Jordan.” 

Before Layla began school at Indian Hill, she was exposed to completely different educational environments. She described a school she was supposed to go to, where a students pulled a knife on the vice principal. She was put into ESL classes (English as a Second Language). In second grade, was told she wasn’t progressing fast enough for the teacher’s liking and was transferred into the Special Needs program. Layla remembers she didn’t care about her education or learning; she was more concerned with making friends and fitting in, which was hard when people isolated and bullied her for her religion alone. 

Her mother, who wears a headscarf as part of her religion, was the largest recipient of religious bullying, which was very distressing to Layla. “I’d come home and know she had had problems that day,” she described. “I’d cry in my room, knowing I couldn’t do anything to help.” This, and her own experiences, caused Layla to begin to hide her religion. Her mother would also not attend any event for her children, afraid her headscarf would ruin the occasion for them. Layla felt isolated, sad and scared in this new environment.

Finally, in seventh grade, the family moved to Indian Hill and Layla started school at Indian Hill Middle School. This was the first school she’d been where she stayed at for a long period of time – and the first where she felt like anyone but her parents were pushing her to succeed. At Indian Hill, she described how the teachers care about each of their students and truly put in the time to help them learn. She said, “It being a competitive environment, you pushed yourself, and they taught you to invest in yourself as a student. Through these teachings, education became more of a priority.” 

Layla also decided during high school that she was strong enough to share her religious beliefs publicly, when appropriate. No longer would she hide that she was a Muslim, but she would participate in conversations and share her feelings and beliefs. “If someone had a problem, I decided it was their problem, not mine,” she asserted.

This past year, she was the President of the National Honor Society, Co-President of Key Club, Co-Captain of the Academic Team, the President of the United Cultures Board, and was also involved in many other activities on Indian Hill campus. She completed a rigorous schedule of AP classes and enjoyed almost every class she took. From the Special Needs program to Valedictorian, Layla clearly learned to prioritize education and believe in herself.

Her current plans include attending Johns Hopkins University for Art History with a Pre-Med track. Layla stated, “I want to be a pediatrician. I love kids, I love helping kids, I’ve always wanted to be a doctor. the history part is just because I like it, and we are told to major in stuff we actually enjoy!” 

Layla tries not to worry about the future too much, however - she learned that from growing up. Since she was constantly moving around, and she learned to do her best and try her hardest in the moment. She’ll plan for the near future and make tentative plans for the further-ahead future, but she has learned to go with the flow of what life brings. “You really don’t know what’s going on in someone’s life when you meet them,” Layla advised. “You never know what you’re going to come across in a person, and you can’t tell by just looking at the first layer of the individual.”