Freshman competes in Live Your Life campaign

Ryan Al-Sharieh remembers being told by a teacher during middle school that he wouldn’t succeed.

Having been diagnosed as hard of hearing at age 4, Al-Sharieh said he started out behind in school and was bullied by other students. But by the time he entered college at Wichita State last fall, Al-Sharieh had been selected as a Dean’s Scholar, completed 4,000 community service hours, and checked several items off his bucket list, including receiving a presidential award, publishing a book and saving a life.

“It wasn’t until about the seventh or eighth grade when I had a special ed teacher tell me I would not succeed,” Al-Sharieh said. “That kind of ticked me off. I kicked it up a gear. I started to involve myself as much as I could in the community. I started studying harder. I started getting myself into sports.”

Al-Sharieh hopes his personal history and interests help distinguish him in American Eagle’s Live Your Life Campaign, a national contest that recognizes exemplary young people.

“American Eagle is selecting motivational individuals who are really into community service, and they’re active and they really have a dream they want to go after,” Al-Sharieh said. “I think I’m a good fit for that.”

Winners receive various prizes, including up to $25,000 – which Al-Sharieh said he would invest in community service projects somehow – or a wardrobe makeover, which Al-Sharieh joked he doesn’t care about.

“My goal would be to use a fairly good amount of it for community service,” Al-Sharieh said.

His previous community service activities resulted in him winning the President’s Call to Service Award. They also taught him a lot about life, he said.

Al-Sharieh has logged volunteer hours for different organizations, and completed individual service contributions including cleaning at elderly people’s homes or building fences.

“Anything anyone needed me to do, I was willing to help,” he said.

One volunteer experience that stands out to him is helping the Islamic Burial Committee prepare the deceased for burial.

“I was sitting on a couch reading ‘The Hunger Games’ at the mosque and a man comes in and asks if my father was there. I told him no, but I could help. He asked if I was strong. I was doing power lifting; I was in sports; and I was like ‘OK, yeah, I’m strong.’ And so I follow him into a room and I see a man on a steel table,” Al-Sharieh said. “It was a surreal experience having the chance to prepare him for burial. I knew the man, he was 65 or 70 years old, so he’d lived a good, long life. And I told them they could call me any time they wanted to because it was amazing getting to see what life is really like.”

A week later, they called to tell him a 3-month-old baby needed buried. 

“I learned the delicacy of life,” Al-Sharieh said. “I began thinking of what I want other people to think of me when I lay on that steel table.”

That concept is one he shares with others.

“Something I’m really involved in now is motivational speaking. I did a lot in high school. There’s different groups that ask me to share my experiences,” he said. “I really like to share the power of connections, I like to share that idea of what you want people to think of you after you’re gone, and the kind of values and concepts that make a good leader stand out from a bad leader.”

Leadership is important to Al-Sharieh. He co-founded the Student Wellness Action Team at WSU, he’s involved in Student Ambassador Society, and once he graduates he wants to become a doctor.

“I actually ended up discovering in high school that there’s never been a deaf doctor graduate from Kansas,” Al-Sharieh said. “I’d be the first.”

Growing up with a hearing loss has been a big part of Al-Sharieh’s life, but it has had its perks, too, he said. 

“When I hear people say something is impossible, it really motivates me to prove them wrong,” Al-Sharieh said. “I want to be seen as someone that can overcome challenges. I want to be seen as someone that is kind and caring. I want people to see me for who I am.”