Originally from Morocco, Colorado Mountain College graduate Wissal Kahhak plans to continue her education in America.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

When Wissal Kahhak first came to Aspen from Morocco, she was 4 years old. She stayed eight months before returning to her native country with her mother. Never did Kahhak dream that 15 years later she would be back in Aspen, graduating from Colorado Mountain College and well on her way to living the American dream.

“I am just so honored to be able to graduate and so amazed by all the people who have helped me along the way,” said Kahhak, who will graduate with her Associate of Science degree Friday with plans to study premed at the University of Colorado at Denver. “It’s been a wonderful journey.”

Among those who guided Kahhak was Lorraine Miller, who teaches English as a second language at CMC.

“What Wissal has accomplished in just a couple short years in the United States is truly inspiring,” Miller said.

Indeed, Kahhak’s road to success was a long one — both literally and figuratively.

On her first trip to Colorado as a small child, Kahhak’s father, Charaf, stayed behind and began taking English as a second language classes at CMC; he now owns an Aspen-based property-management company. Her uncle, Carbondale artist and gallery owner Majid Kahhak, had invited Kahhak’s family for that first visit. But the culture of Morocco is different from in the United States, and women do not often set out on their own — especially in a foreign country.

“My father wanted me to come over and get to know him better; I did not have an intention of staying,” said Kahhak, who earned her U.S. citizenship soon after moving to Colorado two years ago. “But when I saw that I could do even better here than I could do in Morocco, I decided to make this my home.”

In fact, the 19-year-old Kahhak was well-educated at a private school in Morocco, but she said the opportunities afforded her in the United States — from owning a car and holding down a job to wearing what she pleases and saying what she chooses — are far greater than in her homeland.

“We have had a lot of opportunities here in the United States,” she said. “And when people here see that you’re an international student, that you’re doing your best, they are so willing to help you succeed.

“I have so many dreams. I hope to accomplish so much.”

Still, Kahhak already has accomplished a great deal. She now speaks three languages — Arabic, French and English — and has enrolled in Spanish classes. She said she loves languages and believes they will help her as she pursues her dream of becoming a doctor.

“Wissal will go as far as she chooses to go. She is hardworking and focused like very few other students,” Miller said. “She has so many great opportunities ahead.”

Further, Miller believes Kahhak’s story of success is one that can inspire others to achieve their dreams.

“Wissal’s story proves that anything is possible,” Miller said.

For Kahhak, the statement “nothing is impossible” might be cliche, but it’s also very true.

“I guess I would tell others, ‘If I can do it, you can do it. … Just go for it and do whatever it takes,” she said.

It is this attitude that makes Kahhak stand out among other CMC students, administrators say.

“We are so proud of Wissal’s success and humbled by her perseverance,” CMC spokeswoman Debbie Crawford-Arensman said, adding that Kahhak was featured on the cover of the Aspen campus’s summer course catalog. “Students come to us at all different stages of learning with different learning needs, and we do our best to meet them wherever they are. But each student has to decide how much effort and time they can contribute to their own education.

“Wissal is definitely a great role model to many students.”

“I’m so blessed to know Wissal and her father,” Miller agreed. “They are an amazing family and have so much to offer to others.”

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