The freedom to excel

Elissa Abou Eissa is congratulated on her academic achievements by St Francis Xavier principal Vincent Feeney.

Elissa Abou Eissa fled war torn Syria with her family. In a remarkable story of perseverance and hard work, Elissa tells of her journey to the top of the VCE rankings with the help and support of the St Francis Xavier community.

“I WAS born and raised in Damascus, Syria. After the war started in my country in 2011, my family decided to move to Australia for safety and a better future. We arrived in Australia in March 2017 after leaving all our loved ones behind.

Moving to Australia without knowing how to speak English was very hard for me, especially that I came at the start of VCE which is a challenge to Australian students themselves.

My first day at St Francis Xavier College was in July 2017. At that time I only knew how to say ‘Hi’ and ‘How are you?’ in English and I still remember how stressful it was to understand and speak Australian English and get adapted to the new environment and make new friends. The college community helped me to stay optimistic towards the future despite the early challenges I was faced with and gave me a sense of belonging the moment I walked into student services on my first day of school.

I used to always get very high grades and was the dux of my school for every year of my schooling in Syria, and that is what put pressure on me as I wanted to keep that up and wanted to do well at school to make myself, my parents and my school proud.

Alongside my determination and willingness to do well and the long hours I spent studying, learning and practicing, my family and my incredible teachers at St Francis Xavier College encouraged me to always do my best and gave me the opportunity to show my strengths.

During my time at St Francis Xavier College, I got multiple awards including an Academic Endeavour Award from school and the Kwong Lee Dow Young Scholars Program for high achieving students from the University of Melbourne only 2 months after I started school at St Francis Xavier College. This allowed me to get to know the university and proved that all of my hard work was starting to pay off. This encouraged me to never give up and to work even harder in order to overcome the different obstacles .

In 2018, I got an Academic Excellence Award for achieving the highest grade in English, mathematical methods and biology. I was also awarded the Premier’s VCE award for achieving one of top scores in the state, a score of 47 raw, in VCE Arabic in 2018.

After around one year of arriving to Australia, I wanted to give back to the Australian community that has given me a lot, so I became a volunteer at Monash Health. Being a part of the Monash community gave me the opportunity to interact with patients and help them which I love doing.

The most challenging, yet rewarding, stage of my schooling journey which required a lot of hard work and dedication was completing year 12. I studied very hard throughout the year and scored very high in my year 12 subjects which were English, mathematical methods, specialist mathematics, chemistry and physics. This allowed me to achieve an ATAR of 97.25 and get into the Bachelor of Biomedicine at the university of my dreams, The University of Melbourne, with a flagship scholarship.

I have come pretty far and I owe it all to the people who never left my side, who believed in me and supported me through it all – my family, my friends and my amazing teachers at St Francis Xavier College.