Graduation marks end of journey, beginning of another

Nibras Khudaida will walk across the stage at Bob Devaney Sports Center on Sunday as a graduate of Lincoln North Star High School, the culmination of one journey that began in Iraq three years ago and the beginning of another that seems destined to end wherever she wants.

Khudaida, her parents and six brothers and sisters fled Iraq in 2014 when the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, invaded her village. They eventually made their way to Lincoln and Khudaida enrolled at North Star in 2015.

She spoke no English when she arrived and began as an English Language Learner (ELL) student. Only a few years later, this semester, Khudaida took Advanced Placement courses in microeconomics, government and politics, college accounting, statistics and composition - and earned straight A’s.

She credits the diversity of students at North Star for making her feel at home and for helping her thrive.

“The diversity is my favorite thing about North Star - different cultures, different backgrounds,” she said. “It made me feel like I belong here.”

There were struggles, of course, especially in the beginning when she and her family worried about relatives who were still trapped in Iraqi refugee camps. There also was a cultural adjustment period.

“I was straddling that line between Iraqi culture and American culture. In school I had a different life than when I went home. It was so complicated. We had to work through that and find a balance between the two,” Khudaida said.

She points to one person in particular who helped her when she first arrived - ELL teacher Cara Morgenson. “Oh my gosh, she’s a great human being. She supported me so much and she pushed me every single day. All of my writing now is because of her.”

Morgenson thinks Khudaida is pretty great, too.

“Nibras is truly a phenomenal student and young person. Her drive was striking from the start and she continues to go above and beyond,” Morgenson said, adding: “I could truly rave on and on about her.”

Khudaida has thrived outside the classroom, as well. This year she joined the speech and debate teams - and made state quarterfinals in debate. She also has interned for U.S. Congressman Jeff Fortenberry.

This fall she’ll attend Creighton University, where she plans on majoring in economics and finance. After that, she’s thinking of law school.

Khudaida’s journey is exceptional but its beginnings aren’t unique in Lincoln Public Schools. In 2017-18, LPS served 3,327 ELL immigrant and refugee students, many of whom fled life-threatening situations in their native countries.

Khudaida has advice for any ELL students just beginning their journey.

“Even though English is one of our barriers they shouldn’t make any excuses,” she said. “ELL students are capable of doing anything.”  

Published: May 24, 2018, Updated: May 24, 2018

"Nibras is truly a phenomenal student and young person. Her drive was striking from the start...I could truly rave on and on about her."

Cara Morgenson, North Star ELL teacher