AUSTIN, Texas — It is graduation day at the University of Texas and cameras are flashing, program pages turning, and friends and families are waving. And as seats fill with people, Qusay Hussein is guided backstage with the help of a friend.
"It's an honor for me, you know, a big one ... big goal achievement," he said about graduating.
He was the keynote speaker for the school of social work graduation this year. It’s a goal that was almost unattainable for Hussein after a game of volleyball with his friends in Iraq. The scene turned into that of a crime after a suicide bombing.
"While played volleyball, this is when I got in my accident. The driver, he drove to the stadium. And after that, you know, my life got changed completely,” he said.
It was 2006 and he was 17.
Hussein was left forever visually impaired, and to date, he's had 64 reconstructive surgeries on his face. Sunglasses are a regular accessory. A walking stick is his forever companion.
Hussein was saved by the grace of medical teams at Doctors Without Borders and the daily care of his parents. But for years, Hussein cradled in the darkness of depression, convinced that his dreams would be just that: dreams.
"I thought, 'This is not life. I want to do something to change,'" he said.
So he applied as a refugee in the U.S.
"When I analyzed, you know, for visually impaired person in Middle East, if I stay there, it's not that much opportunity. And I come here, and I find the opportunity. I find the people who believed in me," he said.
Hussein found himself in the Texas Capital, left alone to find his own path to success. His parents, since passed, still in Iraq and his doctors in Jordan.
Hussein began his higher education studies at Austin Community College, where he gained a community. Now, because of the support of his mother and father, the encouragement of his classmates and his higher power, he crossed the stage.
"I never lost my faith in God. I always pray and I know every time I do prayer, I know there are hope for me. And every time I feel hopeless, I fall down, I make a prayer," he said.
He shared a message he knows and has lived by at the UT graduation ceremony.
"My message was like, you know, not to give up. You know, we achieve goals," he said.
He received his master's degree in social work.
"As a human, it's easy to give up. If we don't have a high level of self-esteem and when you don't have higher our level of self-esteem, easy to people putting you down or the life because this life is, as you know, is sometimes not fair. So, you need people around you to help you keep going," said Hussein.
With this degree, Hussein said he will help others walking the same path as him.
"If each one of us does something to help the world become better," he said.
Because experience, empathy and grit, Hussein said, sometimes trump studies.
"I have experience with the trauma I’ve experienced in war, so I want apply which one works with me, which one didn't work with me so I could use it to help other people," he said.
But before beginning that journey, he gave a final farewell to his friends and school turned family.
"I love your smile. I could not see you, but I feel in my heart. And thank you, and hook 'em horns," said Hussein.
Hussein plans to start his Ph.D. program at UT this fall.
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