At just barely 16 years old, Rawan Saleh was eager to participate in SkillsUSA’s national Advertising Design contest. She’d only arrived in America from her native Jordan three years prior, after being well known for another kind of talent.
Her family left just as Saleh was on the verge of becoming a TV star. “I’d been on the radio and I was kind of famous, and I went to ‘Arabs Got Talent,’ ” she says.
“I was about to go to the U.S. like, the next week, and then they call me and say, ‘Oh, you’ve got your ticket to go to Lebanon to do the live show with us.’ And my mom was like, ‘We’re traveling next week, you can’t do that.’ ”
After moving to Louisville, Ky., Saleh first attended the Newcomer Academy, which is for students who speak English as a second language. After only a year, she was ready to move on to Fern Creek High School, says her teacher, Lauren Ison.
Saleh is quick to point out that Jordan is a safe place. “However,” she adds, “the college education there is expensive. It’s really expensive. I mean, here it’s expensive, too, but there’s more opportunities to go to college here, like scholarships.”
Another difference between her native and adoptive countries is that powerful public speaking can earn someone a performance on the Middle Eastern version of the “Got Talent” franchise.
Making it to the top level for speaking means having something to say. And, she does: “Yes, I talk about my country. Yes, and religion, and teachers. Everything.”
Saleh’s delivery is passionate and thought provoking. Here’s a sample: “It [Islam] is submission, it is devotion, it is peace, and terrorism is actually forbidden. And ‘jihad’ does not mean holy war, it means struggle. It means survival. It means standing face-to-face with anything that tries to put you down on the ground and choosing to be alive.”
Recreating her performance, she fiercely delivers her words in a manner difficult to ignore. Today, the student hopes they will bring understanding and change minds.
Saleh most definitely has talent — in public speaking and advertising design. She’s competed in SkillsUSA’s Prepared Speech event, but her design skills took her to the national championships. They also earned her an opportunity to work with the nonprofit YouthBuild.
This is not a student who gives up, setting her apart from other students her age, Ison affirms. “And, she’s also always listening for ways that she has to improve herself, which makes a much easier student to teach.”
Saleh says SkillsUSA helped her navigate a new life and that others should join, too. Like her, they may discover something about themselves that they didn’t know.