Abdullah Alyahya ’12, at the still-tender age of 23, is not only a talented young man who has worked hard to find success. He’s also lucky. This doesn’t diminish what he has accomplished. It’s simply a reflection of his positive outlook on life. Part of that good luck is that a Google search from Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, brought Abdullah and his family to Blue Ridge School’s website.
At the time, Abdullah was struggling at the Saad School in Khobar. His dad had already suggested that his son try a different school in nearby Bahrain. Abdullah had vehemently refused to consider the idea. After his low first-semester exam scores in his sophomore year at Saad, Abdullah began to have a change of heart. He knew his dad had been right when he told him that he would regret not taking advantage of the opportunity to try a different school. “Honestly, I had been a careless student. And the system and the environment in Saudi were just not helpful for me. I didn’t want to try a different school in Dhahran or Khobar or Bahrain. I wanted to look in another country.”
It was more good luck that Abdullah’s uncle was living in Fairfax, Virginia, while working at the Saudi Arabian embassy and that Abdullah’s favorite color is blue. Blue Ridge School’s website therefore immediately grabbed his attention. “But it was much more than that, obviously. The website was very informative, and the campus looked beautiful. I was sold.” Blue Ridge was the only school to which Abdullah applied.
Mr. Trip Darrin was the first Blue Ridge School voice that Abdullah heard during a phone interview as he was working in Admissions at that time. Abdullah had been learning English since kindergarten so he spoke well enough to carry on a productive conversation. Trip told him to improve his grades during his second semester of his sophomore year at Saad so that he might enter Blue Ridge as a junior. Abdullah did NOT want to lose a year so this gave him the motivation he needed to finish strong that year. There was no luck involved in his being accepted as a junior in the fall of 2010.
“Years after I had been accepted, my parents told me they had nightmares about my leaving home at such a young age. They didn’t show me at the time that they were scared. I was scared, too, but also excited.” Abdullah’s dad accompanied him to the campus that fall and stayed for a week to help him settle in. Bubblegum, of all things, became the object that Abdullah used to remain connected to his dad as he was attempting to leave. He didn’t like the type or the flavor so he complained to his dad to prolong their goodbyes.
Mr. Tony Weinkopff was Abdullah’s advisor. He was called upon for some tough love fairly soon after Abdullah’s arrival. Though Abdullah was finding success in the classroom and on the soccer field, he also received a work crew for having committed a grievous error near the end of his first trimester. Tony told him it was up to him if he wanted to go back to Saudi to finish his education, that no one at the School was going to pressure him to stay at Blue Ridge. Receiving the work crew and Tony’s wise words proved to be a turning point for Abdullah.
“I told Mr. Weinkopff that I was like a soldier. I was going to win or die trying. Yes, I was being dramatic, but I actually sort of felt that way. My dad had invested a lot in my being at Blue Ridge. A few family members and friends had predicted that I would fail in an American school. I was determined to prove them wrong while also making my parents’ investment in me worth it. In the end, I think I made everyone in Saudi very proud of me.”
Tony adds, “Abdullah was an absolute pleasure to have in advisory. He was always seeking feedback regarding his progress both academically and culturally. Understanding that the culture differences were not always the easiest, Abdullah conducted himself as a true Baron and gentleman. He was very aware of how his actions would be perceived by everyone around him. He took a lot of pride in making others feel welcomed with his great smile and laugh.”
After that early set back in behavior, Abdullah went on to win the Baron Award and to receive lapel pins for being on the Dean’s List. The whole experience of being at Blue Ridge was life-changing for Abdullah. He struggles to pinpoint just one or two fond memories that stand out above the rest. “Everyone at the School was positive and supportive. That helped me remain positive even when I was struggling. I became a better student, but, more importantly, I became a better person.”
One faculty member, in particular, who helped Abdullah become a better student and person by being available during after-class hours is Dr. Kevin Miller. “Abdullah would often drop by the Learning Center to receive some help with math. I was initially impressed with his tenacity. Then I came to appreciate how seriously he took all of his goals. What I remember most fondly, though, was just chatting and laughing with Abdullah once the work was done. He is a genuinely sweet and sincere young man, and we’re proud to claim him as a Blue Ridge boy.”
Abdullah had several options available to him after graduating in the spring of 2012. He chose the University of Massachusetts Boston where he studied business management leadership and organizational change. He credits Blue Ridge for preparing him for a college work load and for helping him hone his English skills. “Mr. Tim Gillett was my ELL instructor and English teacher. He really helped me avoid having to spend a year in a college Learning Center as many Saudi students had to do.” Since his education was funded by the Saudi cultural mission, he was also lucky that he wasn’t allowed to work even though he wouldn’t have minded doing so. He had developed a strong work ethic while at Blue Ridge.
Tim comments, “Abdullah is one of the greater success stories I have been a part of in my teaching career. Over the course of one academic year, I witnessed a young man who changed the way he viewed himself. He decided he wanted to be a leader, not a follower. Academically, he became more and more empowered through his dedication in the classroom, and I am not sure in my years of teaching I have seen one student advance so much in his writing ability in such a short time. I couldn’t be prouder of his achievements."
It’s important to Abdullah that other Blue Ridge faculty and staff be mentioned. Ms. Karen Fink helped him adapt to his new surroundings. Mr. Paul Fehlner was his influential senior environmental science teacher. Ms. Alanna Pardee coordinated many of his activities. Mr. Brett Doe would often take him to Target or Wal-mart, and he also gave him sound advice while he served on the work crew. Abdullah truly feels lucky that each of these adults took a special interest in him.
Brett has the highest respect for the way Abdullah would recover after setbacks. "The difference between the successful and unsuccessful man is that the successful man pushes himself to get up and do better each time he falls down. That’s Abdullah.”
While attending the University of Massachusetts Boston, Abdullah continued to land on the Dean’s List every semester as he had done at Blue Ridge. He became a member of Beta Gamma Sigma and Golden Key, which are well known national honor societies that recognize business management excellence. He graduated from the University of Massachusetts Boston in December 2016 summa cum laude. He won a scholastic award for having earned the highest GPA (3.86) in his major concentration. It was, indeed, a proud day for his family. Abdullah is quick to say, “It wouldn’t have been possible without BRS. I’m pleased that I made my Blue Ridge family proud, too. Once a Baron always a Baron.”
Abdullah is now working for Saudi Aramco as a contract advisor in community services. Saudi Aramco is considered the best and biggest company in the country and one of the biggest worldwide in the oil and gas industry. He also finds time to kick a soccer ball around, watch soccer matches and play soccer on his Playstation 4. Soccer is his life outside his work – except for his family. “I’m blessed to have my mom, dad and two younger sisters as a support system. I hang out with them a lot. I’m nowhere close to a relationship that might result in marriage, which is okay with me at the moment.”
While his family clearly means the world to him, Abdullah also credits Blue Ridge for his success. He knows that the School shaped him into a better person. He often brags about graduating from a boarding school because that makes him unique among his peers. Many of them attended universities abroad, “but I’m the only one who attended Blue Ridge School.”
Ben Nyavor was Abdullah’s first roommate. He was also a hall proctor. He was such a big help to Abdullah. They remain in close contact today. He also stays in touch with current student Khalid, his brother Abdullah, Courtney Grant, Dillon McBride, Samir Ango, Nariman Muldashev, Nathan Johnson and Fielding Castle.
Abdullah follows the Blue Ridge School Facebook page as well as the website to keep up with the latest. He plans to become a more involved alum when time allows. “I will be attached to the Ridge forever. It’s my second home. I’d like to say thank you to all the BRS teachers and my classmates.”
Mr. Darrin captures the essence of Abdullah perfectly. “He’s a BRS success story, yet it’d be a mistake for us to claim credit for the way he turned around his high school performance and graduated summa cum laude from college. We certainly pushed and supported him, but Abdullah responded, taking hold of his own life and pouring it in the hard work it takes to accomplish high goals. I am so proud of the young man he has become!