Sacrifices pay off: Former high school dropout will graduate with 4.0 GPA

Talal AlriyashiThere were nights when Talal Alriyashi was uncertain whether he’d safely return home.

Alriyashi dropped out of high school three months into his freshman year and was married by the age of 18. In order to put food on the table, he worked at gas stations in dangerous neighborhoods throughout southeast Michigan.

“I would always read about attacks at other gas stations down the road,” he said. “When my wife would see something on the news, she’d call to make sure I was OK. My family constantly worried whether I would make it home at night.”

With a wife and newborn baby on the way, Alriyashi wanted to provide for his growing family, while ensuring his own safety.

At 23, he purchased materials to prep for the GED test. Alriyashi earned his GED, enrolled at Henry Ford Community College and then transferred to University of Michigan-Dearborn.

“My goal was to give it 110 percent and learn as much as I can,” he said.

Mission accomplished. Alriyashi managed to balance a full-time job, class and family obligations, all while maintaining a 4.0 GPA.

On December 14, that hard work will pay off when Alriyashi turns his tassel and receives his diploma at the Fieldhouse. He also will represent the College of Business (COB) as its Chancellor’s Medallion recipient, which is the most prestigious academic honor bestowed upon students.

“It just goes to show that hard work pays off,” said Alriyashi, who received a bachelor’s degree in accounting. “I didn’t have the opportunity to have a traditional college life, so I had to make plenty of sacrifices.”

Those sacrifices paid off, as DTE Energy hired Alriyashi as a senior business associate shortly after he wrapped up classes in August. There, he prepares budgets and forecasts for business units, while also consolidating financial data for senior leadership.

“There are so many talented College of Business students who will graduate this month, but Talal certainly sets himself apart,” said COB Dean Raju Balakrishnan. “Although he faced numerous challenges along the way, he not only overcame those challenges, but did so while maintaining a perfect 4.0 GPA. That epitomizes his dedication and hard work.”

Alriyashi’s path toward commencement is nontraditional, as is his effort in the classroom.

“Talal has finished his degree, despite the heavy odds being stacked against him,” said Tim Hartge, organizational and managerial communication lecturer. “This is a sincere and hardworking man with a true success story. Talal and UM-Dearborn are intertwined in a human legacy and a triumph for good and right.”

Karen Strandholm, associate professor of strategy and management studies department chair, echoed Hartge.

“I truly appreciate students like Talal—they make teaching easier,” said Strandholm, who taught Alriyashi in her corporate responsibility course.

Alriyashi hopes to share his story with youth across southeast Michigan in an effort to show them they can overcome hurdles to succeed.

“I hope my story can have an impact on them and help them turn their lives around,” he said.

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