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From Iran to Turkey to America and an associate degree

Seven years after arriving in the United States with little formal education and no English skills, Amin SalehSafari will achieve what seemed unthinkable a decade ago.

Amin, 20, will become the first in his family to graduate from college when he walks in Tidewater Community College’s 64th Commencement Exercises on May 13 at the Ted Constant Convocation Center.

He will transfer to Old Dominion University to work toward his bachelor’s and master’s in psychology. He hopes to combine that with his love of music, sparked when he realized he could deliver hopeful messages through rap.

“My number one goal is to impact the world somehow with music,” Amin said. “I feel called to do this while also being a therapist. I like to talk with people and help them with the problems they have.”

Amin and his family
Amin SalehSafari, left, and his family

The journey to his Associate of Science in Social Sciences is a perilous one that started when his family fled their native Iran when Amin was 4. They survived for nine years as refugees in Turkey, regularly fearing for their lives.

“What I’ve learned in life if there’s something bad happening, trust God and later you’ll understand why you were there to begin with,” he said.

When the United States finally granted the family asylum, Amin had moved 28 times. His father had endured imprisonment. His sister overcame serious illness. Amin, like the rest, learned to sleep in parks, often going to bed hungry.

After stays in California and Las Vegas and Amin graduating high school in Texas, the family moved to Chesapeake. Attending TCC was the perfect choice, as Amin wanted to remain close to his family.

“We went through so much and we only had each other. It was a plus that TCC was right around the corner,” he said.

Bullied in his teen years because his English was sparse, Amin struggled with American culture.

“When I graduated high school, college seemed intimidating,” he said. “I really wanted to get my feet wet at TCC. And now I see it was the absolute right choice. My differences were seen as strengths. The people were friendly, approachable and always willing to help.”

Amin started studying business, switched to liberal arts and finally settled on social sciences.

Amin worked in the student center on the Chesapeake Campus, first as a Work-Study student, and later as a part-time staffer. He used Pell Grants to pay for school and maintained a 3.5 GPA.

Travis Umstot and Karin Pryor were instrumental in his success. “Travis thinks like a student because he was one not too long ago. This makes him super easy to talk with. And Professor Pryor was tough, and she taught me how to be tough, too. But best of all, she taught me how to write.”

His advice for new students is simple. “It’s going to be hard in the beginning, but you’ll learn how to survive. And ultimately, you’ll meet your goals and find your purpose in life.”