PORTLAND — By graduating from high school and going on to college, the Seddiqi sisters have fulfilled their mother’s dreams for them.
Those dreams included providing her daughters with good educational opportunities, along with more personal freedoms such as the choice of wearing a head scarf or celebrating Christmas.
Nila, 20, and Elaheh, 18, will graduate with the rest of their Portland High School class Thursday, June 8, in a ceremony at Merrill Auditorium.
The Seddiqi family, arrived from Iran three years ago, following time in a refugee camp in Slovakia.
In addition to Nila and Elaheh, the family includes one older sister and one younger, along with their mother, Nourie. The youngest sister attends Lyman Moore Middle School.
Both Nila and Elaheh plan to study at the University of Southern Maine in the fall.
Nila’s dream is to become a successful businesswoman, with plans to someday open her own Persian restaurant. Elaheh said she hopes to become a cardiologist, something that’s been her dream since she was little.
Both girls have won scholarships to assist with the cost of college; Nila took home the prestigious Mitchell Scholarship, which provides an award of $9,000 to one graduate from each high school in Maine, based on academic promise, community impact and financial need.
Nila said winning the scholarship was “a huge surprise” and she’s very proud.
Her application essay, she said, was about the difficulties she had focusing on academics during her junior year, while also facing more demands at home because her mother was ill.
Nila is also sharing the Conley Family Scholarship with Elaheh, which is providing them $1,000 each for each year of college.
Both girls also won a scholarship from the Portland Mentoring Alliance. The alliance, they said, has had a huge, positive and lasting impact on their lives.
Under the supervision of the alliance, adult volunteers from the community are matched with Portland High School students “to create supportive mentoring relationships. The program focuses on academic success, post-secondary planning and socialization,” the alliance website says.
The Seddiqi sisters have each had the same mentor since arriving at Portland High, and those mentors are assisting the girls through the transition from high school to college.
“I feel so close to my mentor,” Nila said, while Elaheh said, “my mentor is the best.”
In addition to their mentors, both girls also praised the teaching staff at Portland High for their support.
“I want to thank everyone who has supported us, especially my teachers,” Nila said. “All of my teachers have been so great and made me ready for the future. They always pushed me to do my best and I am so thankful.”
Nila still struggles with English at times, but described herself as “really social” and someone “who really likes talking to people.”
Elaheh is a bit more shy. While both girls have their own set of friends, she said, they also “do everything together.”
That includes taking part in programs at the Telling Room, which is “dedicated to the idea that children and young adults are natural storytellers,” the organization’s website states.
Both girls have also participated in 4-H and Bright Future at Portland High, along with Cultivating Community and the Compass Project programs outside of school.
Elaheh is also a member of the National Honor Society, participated in the Outdoor Club, played varsity volleyball and volunteered at the Root Cellar and its soup kitchen. Nila has played basketball and also participated on the sailing team.
Nila and Elaheh also work: Nila at Street & Co. restaurant in the Old Port and Elaheh at Lois’ Natural Marketplace and T.J. Maxx.
In their free time, which they don’t have much of, the girls said they enjoy hanging out with friends and family. Elaheh is also a self-described Korean movie buff.
The girls plan to live at home, at least during their first semester of college, and both said they are excited and ready – but also nervous – to begin the next phase of their lives.
Nila, left, and Elaheh Seddiqi are graduating from Portland High School on June 8. The sisters do “everything together,” including attending the University of Southern Maine in the fall.