When Muhaned “Ace” Shalash sets his mind to something, you better believe it’s going to happen.
Looking at the 19-year-old Douglas College Criminology Diploma student, you would never know just how tumultuous his life has been. And that’s just how he likes it.
Born in Iraq, Shalash – or “Ace” as he likes to be called – never met his parents. He spent his childhood living in a string of orphanages with his brother before fleeing the country during the American invasion in 2003.
“I fled Iraq to Syria, and then from there, I came to Canada, when I was 13,” Shalash said. “I didn’t really have an education, I didn’t go to high school before I came to Canada – I had just been focusing on survival.”
After enrolling at East Vancouver’s Brittania Secondary school in Grade 8, Shalash not only survived, he flourished. With the guidance of his teachers, he made the honour roll in Grade 11 and 12 and graduated with an average of 85 percent.
With acceptance letters to a number of schools – including SFU, where he plans to transfer to complete his Bachelor in Criminology – Shalash decided to kick off his post-secondary education with Douglas College. He cites his warm welcome and the tight-knit community atmosphere for sealing the deal.
“I had heard great things about Douglas College – great teachers and programs – but when I came in on that first day, that was what really hooked me in. Everyone was so welcoming,” he said.
Shalash also notes, as a student putting himself through college, the difference in tuition cost was a big draw.
Shalash is eying a career in law enforcement once he gets his bachelor’s degree. Ultimately, he wants to work as a police officer, but notes that a career as a youth worker is just as appealing.
“I want to help youth who have faced adversities, like I have,” he said. “I think it’s really important – not only for youth, but for everyone – to not put those walls up. It’s cathartic. I’m working through my own issues by helping others.”
Despite his accomplishments, Shalash has no plans to slow down any time soon. In fact, he’s using his past experiences to propel himself forward.
“I don’t want to slow down, I want to keep getting better. I remind myself of those horrible experiences, and I remember where I came from, so I know not to let myself get back there. I do better under pressure.”