BHS student overcomes odds to graduate tonight

This evening Ballard High School seniors will receive their diploma, switch their tassle and toss their mortar boards. While all graduates deserve recognition, one in particular has overcome the odds to get to this evening’s ceremony. Ermias Girmay Helemelekhot first came to the United States in February of 2007 from Ethiopia. He lost his Eritrean mother seven years ago and his father was never in the picture. His sister lives in Seattle, so he decided to come live with her and her young children.

Ermias Girmay Helemelekhot and the ELL Department Head Ruth Kutrakun. “I’m not sure his peers understand how amazing he is.”

Helemelekhot started at BHS his second semester of his freshman year. “Ermius was quite new to the country and he was new to English. I just remember him being a very quiet student in my class. He was always very charming and cooperated with everyone and everything. People liked him,” ELL Department Head Ruth Kutrakun says. “I didn’t really realize how special he was until he began passing standardized tests in about his second year. He started signing himself up for mainstream classes such as engineering and biology and chemistry. Courses that are typically very difficult, almost too difficult for a lot of my students. I was just surprised that he was taking on those challenges and then he was handling them.”

“I wanted more advanced things to learn, to be more educated and know something about life,” Helemelekhot tells us. “If you take easier classes, you know you can do it. But if you take harder, you don’t know that much about it. After time if you do it, you’ll get some knowledge.”

After his second year, the Ethiopian translator, who also served as the instructional assistant, was let go because of declining numbers. “I remember at that time being really so concerned for Ermius and some of the other students in that population, not knowing if they were going to be able to navigate and survive without this instructional assistant,” Kutrakun says. “And then being pleasantly surprised that Ermius was really doing well.”

His education is a result of his desire to learn everything. He wants to be a pharmacist, but he doesn’t just focus on that track. Each day he rides the bus a total of three hours to get from Rainier Valley and back. He studies during lunch and stays after school if he needs to. During his last semester at BHS, he took an off-campus auto-mechanic course in the morning, just to learn about cars. “My idea is that just get some knowledge about the automotive technology,” he says. “I don’t have to get anybody else to do my car. So I save a little bit of money to supplement my education for pharmacy.”

At the end of the school year, Helemelekhot was honored as the ELL Department Scholar. The staff had many students to choose from, but this was a unanimous decision. Helemelekhot is a product of his teachers and they take ownership in the education he received. “We feel like he’s taken our guidance and he’s needed us all along, so he really is ‘of us'” Kutrakun says. Although his life has been difficult and it’s taken hard work, dedication and perseverance, he’s been successful. Along with the department acknowledging his accomplishments, Helemelekhot is also a Golden Beaver Scholarship Winner, which is given by a group of Ballard grads who are at least 68 years old. To be a Golden Beaver you have to have graduated more than 50 years ago from BHS, principal Keven Wynkoop tells us.

“I’m not sure his peers understand how amazing he is,” Kutrakun tells us. “Like I said, he doesn’t ever talk about himself. His peers might assume that things come to him easily and that he leads a charmed life.”

While at BHS, Helemelekhot also played on the Beavers soccer team, as varsity goalie this year.

Next year Helemelekhot will attend Seattle Central Community College with aspirations of heading to a four-year-university after that.

Geeky Swedes

The founders of My Ballard

14 thoughts to “BHS student overcomes odds to graduate tonight”

  1. This is one of the best stories you have ever covered. Thank you and congratulations to Ermias!! I wish him well as he starts his post-high school life. What a star.

  2. Wow, kudoes.  He must be very gifted as well as very hard-working. 

    One thing I don’t understand — why is he commuting so far across town for school?  Does BHS have a particularly good ELL program? 

  3. I asked him that, but didn’t include it because the article was already really long. He said that he chose to go to BHS  “because it’s a good school. I could go to Rainier Beach or something, but I wanted a more formal education.”


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