Oregon Islamic Academy's tight-knit senior class prepares for graduation and beyond.

COURTESY MUSLIM EDUCATIONAL TRUST - From left to right, Omar Rasheed, Ahmed Al-Dulaimi and Salma Bashir comprise the Oregon Islamic Academy's sixth graduating senior class.This weekend, high schools across Washington County will host graduation ceremonies for the class of 2017. Most of these ceremonies will include anywhere from dozens to hundreds of graduating students — but at the Oregon Islamic Academy High School, just three students will be donning a cap and gown.

The Muslim Educational Trust's K-12 school includes about 20 high school students, with three seniors who will be saying goodbye to high school this Saturday: Omar Rasheed, Salma Bashir and Ahmed Al-Dulaimi. The three students comprise the school's sixth graduating class in its 10-year history.

"It's a really beautiful environment to grow up in," Bashir said. "You become so close to people that everyone is like family there."

Bashir has been attending the academy since kindergarten. She said she enjoys going to school with peers that she has known for years, and that the high school is a close-knit community.

"My dad was looking for Islamic schools a few years after I was born, because he wanted the community of it, and he wanted me to grow up in a place where I can be close to my faith," Bashir said.

Rasheed has been a student at the academy since the third grade, and also appreciates the academy's small size, as well as the emphasis on his Islamic faith. The school offers classes in Quran memorization and understanding, the Arabic language and Islamic studies, in addition to a typical course load.

"It kept me close with my religion," Rasheed said. "Every other day, we have a class. Even if we do go over the basics every once in a while, it's a nice reminder. We also have our prayer in the middle of the school day. We set aside 20 minutes to go do that. I'm kind of grateful, because a lot of friends I know, they struggle to pray then in the middle of the school day."

As students at the only Islamic school in the Portland area, the academy's students can't help but be politically aware. MET held a memorial service for the slain victims of the MAX stabbing that occurred two weeks ago, which was fueled by anti-Muslim sentiment. Bashir couldn't attend the service, but her 75-year-old teacher talked to them about it the following Monday.

"He was talking about how, back in the day he was part of the civil rights movement, and how he thought he'd been done with it, but it's never really over," she said. "So he's trying to get us to be more involved. As Muslim youth, we're young and we have to be aware of these kinds of things."

Rasheed and Bashir were both part of MET's youth ambassadors program, which included volunteering and outreach opportunities.

"We went to different high schools and middle schools," Rasheed said. "Usually they have religious study classes, and we spoke to them about Islam and answered any questions they might have."

But the students' favorite memories of the academy and MET fall outside of the classroom and structured extracurriculars. Bashir fondly remembered a camping trip a few years ago with other MET families, where they got to canoe and build a bonfire. Rasheed often had to stay late at school because his mother is an administrator there, and he remembers hanging out with other kids who had to stay on campus late.

"We played soccer and basketball all day," he said. "Honestly, that's probably one of my best memories."

Rasheed will be headed to Cornell University in the fall, where he hopes to follow his father's footsteps and study computer science. He's a little nervous about transition from the close, comfortable environment MET offers.

"I'm kind of scared, because coming from 20 students in high school to 20,000 students in college, that's definitely going to be a big shock for me," he said. "Most of the people that I'm with, I don't have to make new conversations or make new friends that often… it's just a different social aspect."

Bashir, who will be attending Lewis & Clark College and hopes to study science and writing, shared similar thoughts.

"I know the transition will be really difficult ... Lewis & Clark is a small school, but it's certainly larger than what I'm used to," she said. "I have a class of three people. But it'll go well, I think."

Oregon Islamic Academy High School's graduation is this Saturday. Because it is being held during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, the ceremony will start two hours before sundown, when Muslims break their fast, and there will be a potluck dinner afterwards. All three seniors will have the chance to give a speech before crossing the stage and receiving their diploma.

"It's mostly going to be a speech thanking people," Bashir said about her graduation speech. "I'll probably be talking about what high school was for me. I had a lot of issues with self-confidence and trying to motivate myself to do things, so I want to thank people for being there for me through it."

Blair Stenvick
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