The war in Syria has had a major impact on the world since it began in 2011. Some native Syrians have fled their home in search of a haven from the devastation; others are unable to escape the suffering. But one Saint Leo international student chose to follow his own path in order to shape the bright future that he so longed for. Now, Ammar Mohrat, senior and computer science major, is giving the commencement speech to the graduating students of 2017 after having come a long way to make his dream come true.
Mohrat was born and raised in Homs, Syria, where he studied computer engineering at Al Ba’ath University. He was a political and media activist, but was forced to flee Syria in 2011 due to political persecution and threats to his life. Since enrolling in Saint Leo, he has made the Dean’s list a total of six times and also works as a tutor, parking valet, and as a computer programmer for the Badcock Corporation.
Q: How did you come to Saint Leo and how have your initial feelings of Saint Leo changed from when you began?
“Saint Leo was listed on a website that helps Syrian scholars to get scholarships around the world. So I took my chance, I applied for it, and here I am.”
“The first time I arrived here four years ago, I was like, ‘where am I?!’ because it was far from the city and in the middle of nowhere, but now I love it. I always say that during that first year at Saint Leo students just want to leave, but then next year when they make friends, they start to like it, and by junior year they love it. But, in senior year, it feels like home, and you feel you do not want to leave!”
Q: Why did you decide to become commencement speaker at Saint Leo University?
“Since my first year, I knew that I wanted to be the speaker on behalf of my class.”
“Maybe because I am an international student. Plus, I wanted to deliver a message about where I am from.”
Q: Did you draw any inspiration from past commencement speakers? If so, who?
“Yes. I actually watched the 2014 and 2015 speeches, and I communicated with Dave Leblanc, who was my friend and brother in TKE. He gave me advice on how to start writing my speech.”
Q: What do you plan to do after you graduate from Saint Leo?
“My plan has changed with the new government so, probably, I am going to take a year off before starting my graduate degree. I am hoping to get my masters in robotics.”
Q: What clubs/organization were you involved in at Saint Leo? Did you enjoy your time there? What did you enjoy most about it?
“I am part of a Greek organization Tau Kappa Epsilon. I joined the fraternity Spring 2015, it was a good experience, and [it’s] always great to have people and brothers around you. I enjoyed my time here at school and with my brothers. I enjoyed how we had each other’s back; if any of us needed help, we would find dozens of people that were ready to offer help.”
Q: What are some of the things that you enjoyed the most about Saint Leo?
“The trips, [or] social life, I guess, or maybe the best description is campus life.”
Q: What do you think you’ll miss most about Saint Leo University?
I will miss the atmosphere. Since coming here, I’ve never left; so it is going to be hard.”
Q: How do you think you’ll proceed applying all that you’ve learned at Saint Leo to your daily life?
“My journey at Leo is going to an end in a couple of weeks, and I feel like the school has really prepared me with skills to do well in real life. I love the person that I became!”
Q: Were there any people who inspired you throughout your journey at Saint Leo?
“I’ve heard many stories, and they were all inspirational.”
Many of Ammar’s friends, and even those whom he does not know as well, have often spoken highly of him. His friend and roommate, Richard Ocampo, is a part of the Greek community life alongside Ammar. Richard has said that he admires Ammar for “how he treats everyone he meets with respect.”
Ocampo and others admire this trait because people are in a time where they tend to fight with one another over race or religion. Mohrat is a person who holds a high respect for others, and he hopes members of the Saint Leo student community will continue to follow his example long after his departure from the campus.
Ammar is driven by optimism and futurism and is planning on pursuing a master’s degree in robotics and artificial intelligence.
“I grateful for the opportunity I have been given by St. Leo and by America in general,” Mohrat said. “I want to work on the cutting edge of technology and to be part of changing the world for the better.”