Alnajjar, Kennedy and Vincent given MASS awards for their hard work



Christine Kennedy and her mother smile after Kennedy receives the MASS award, given to students who have persevered through challenges to succeed.

Interim Superintendent Dr. James Marini awarded three high school seniors, Christine Kennedy, Esam Alnajjar and Marie Vincent, with the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents (MASS) Certificate of Excellence, for their success in the face of adversity.

When Alnajjar was ten years old, his family moved from Syria to Egypt, seeking safety from the escalation of the Syrian Civil War.

“We left because the war had started and we tried to find safety. We stayed in Egypt for four and a half years until we got accepted into the UN program to relocate,” Alnajjar said.

Kathleen Whelan, Alnajjar’s Guidance Counselor, also spoke about his experience during a Brookline School Committee meeting.

“When he was nine years old the Syrian military invaded his small town and killed many men and boys. This was retribution from many members of the town protesting against the government. Esam witnessed atrocities that no one should see,” Whelan said.

After being accepted into a UN program, Aljannar was able to move to the US. Adjusting to living in a new country is always difficult, but he immediately made positive impressions.

“As soon as Esam began attending school in the United States he made a positive impression on teachers. He received English Language Education Awards and was recognized for his perfect attendance in grade nine,” Whelan said.

Whelan said that Esam’s experiences have made him more accepting and tolerant of others. His impact is felt through both teachers and students.

“Despite all of the adversity and challenges that Esam has faced in his personal life he has always looked at challenges with positivity.” Whelan said. “Esam is a true leader and is always focused on helping his peers. Other students have expressed gratitude for having Esam in his class and the opportunity to learn his story that they otherwise would have never been exposed to.”

For Alnajjar, the most challenging thing to overcome was not learning a new language and culture, though that can be challenging for anyone.

“The most challenging thing for me to overcome will be to forget parts of the past and focus on my future and on what I want to be.”

Another award recipient was Christine Kennedy. Kennedy has been attending the high school since freshman year and her health issues were a challenge for her to face and overcome.

Coordinator of the African American and Latino Scholars Program (AALSP) Stephanie Hunt said Kennedy has overcome many challenges even as an infant.

“She has shown tremendous resilience and she has overcome significant medical concerns since being diagnosed with Pfeiffer syndrome as an infant,” Hunt said.

Kennedy spoke to her story and what high school was like for her while dealing with medical concerns.

“I’ve had to miss school for different surgeries and medical procedures. I guess part of why I won the award was because, despite missing a lot of school and having a lot of doctor’s appointments, I’ve still been able to do pretty well,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy has also excelled in her extracurricular activities, like the spring play, which she joined in her sophomore year, and the Whipple Writing Fellowship, a program that offers high school students who love to write the opportunity to develop and expand their skills during the summer.

“Christine is one of those students who is bright, but also works hard and wants to surpass what is expected of her,” Hunt said. “Christine is always pushing herself, she is dedicated to her work which is obvious by her summer commitment working with The Calculus Project and as a Whipple Writing Fellow.”

Kennedy said that a lot of her comfort at the high school has to do with the AALSP which is aimed to promote academic success in underrepresented minority students.

“I think a lot of that had to do with just the fact that I’m in African-American scholar and METCO. So I had that extra support from the progress,” Kennedy said. “Whereas, I felt like I never really had that in middle school or in elementary school. It was nice.”

Paul Epstein, a social worker at the high school, talked about what it was like to be able to see Vincent achieve this award.

“Seeing her recognized in this way is an incredible joy for all of us. I have never met a student, scratch that – a person, whose inner strength and resilience even approached Marie’s,” Epstein said.

Vincent has adapted and overcome adversity since arriving from Haiti only five years ago. Vincent’s guidance counselor, Ellen Herz, also spoke about Marie, and all of her work helping people.

“Marie has worked with children since 2018. First, at a summer program for students who are new to the country, helping them to learn English, something she herself did. The next summer she was a camp counselor, and most recently just before the pandemic, Marie began working at a Preschool,” Herz said.

Both Alnajjar and Kennedy believe that the award presents a unique and important opportunity to recognize students.

“It was kind of nice for me to receive. I felt like it was nice just because the school was acknowledging that they know that school isn’t our entire life,” Herz said. “That we have other things that affect us and that can really affect how well someone does. It’s good that they kind of were able to acknowledge that.”

Alnajjar echoes her statement placing emphasis on how the award itself can inspire students. All three of the MASS awards recipients were well deserving of their award, and have shown that one can persevere through hard times.

“It’s very important to show the student that if you put your mindset in something you can do it and also for the student to know what is happening with their peers because sometimes they’re unaware,” Alnajjar said.

Marini also expressed similar sentiments, talking about how it is such an honor to be in the presence of such inspiring young people.

“It’s wonderful to take time out of our day to be here and honor these young people. I think about all the stories we’ve heard and how they fill their time and think about other people,” Marini said. “How they face difficulties and adversity and they rise to that challenge and they exceed and excel. You truly are deserving of these awards, each of you.”