Editor’s note: Every year, The Herald Journal profiles one graduating student from each valley high school. Profiled students are selected by administrators at the schools.
SMITHFIELD — Yes, she was born and spent more than a decade of her life in Africa.
However, that doesn’t mean she was around wild animals or has any stories about them. But go ahead and ask. Zaham Mahmood will smile and explain that her early years were spent in a big city in South Africa.
“I don’t mind talking about Africa, but I do get tired of the same questions about animals,” Mahmood said with a laugh. “I grew up in the city. Yeah, there are animals, but not where I grew up.”
The 17-year-old now lives in Smithfield. The daughter of Salata and Aidid Mahmood will be among the 305 graduates at Sky View High School on Thursday. Starting at 1 p.m., there will be a drive through at the school for the graduates due to the coronavirus pandemic. A virtual graduation with speeches will be streamed at 6:30 p.m.
“My time at Sky View has been honestly been great,” Mahmood said. “What I’ve seen from growing up and watching American TV shows, it has been different from that, but it has been great. All the jumping around and singing is all lies.”
The more one converses with Mahmood, you pick up on her fun personality and sense of humor. While the teenager has dreamed of an American graduation from high school, she is rolling with the current setup.
“It’s really sad because that’s one thing I really wanted in living the American dream,” Mahmood said. “I wanted to throw my hat. I really wanted to do that, but it’s OK because I’m graduating. My older siblings graduated, so I at least got to see that (cap toss).”
Learning from home was no big deal either. She likes to teach herself and has taken many college classes, which she did online anyway. Mahmood will graduate with 24 college credits.
Dealing with COVID-19 has been challenging at times, but this Bobcat has dealt with many as she accompanied her family to the United States as refugees. Her mother was born in Kenya, but both of her parents are from Somalia. Mahmood is right in the middle of five brothers and a sister and has lived in Utah for nearly six years.
“South Africa was not a good place for us, so we came here as refugees,” Mahmood said.
“I first met Zaham when she came and enrolled in North Cache at the beginning of eighth grade,” said Janine Justis, a counselor at Sky View. “I was a counselor at North Cache at the time. I remember she was still fairly new to the country and she was still trying to figure things out. However, she was outgoing and friendly and it was fun to watch as she made friends, became involved and worked hard in school. She is such a hard worker. I moved to Sky View the same year as she did (her 10th grade year) and am grateful that I could continue to be a part of her time in high school.”
Sky View Principal Mike Monson enjoyed seeing Mahmood around school.
“She is a happy, bright, really cool girl,” Monson said. “She is one of those kids that you look at and just makes you smile. She is always pretty happy and a good, hard-working student.”
What does Mahmood think of being described as someone that is always smiling?
“I try to be happy all the time, especially in high school,” Mahmood said. “In high school there can be tension with schoolwork and trying to fit in. I try to keep the atmosphere light and happy.”
“Zaham is the kind of person that when I interact with her, I find I have a smile on my face,” Justis said. “It has been a privilege to be a part of her journey and watch her become the amazing young woman that she is.”
Mahmood grew up speaking English in South Africa, but also speaks Somali. While she didn’t have a lot in South Africa, she does have fond memories.
“I felt like we had everything, even though we didn’t,” Mahmood said. “Everybody was so different there and very welcoming. It’s called the rainbow nation for a reason. It’s a mixing pot of cultures. I really liked that. I had friends that were Indian, friends that were, I guess you would call it white, just everybody. In Smithfield, it is not like that, but that is OK. It doesn’t bother me because people here are definitely nice.”
Part of living the American dream was getting a house. Her family built one in Smithfield a year ago.
“Yes, I was involved and it was horrible, especially in the winter,” Mahmood said. “It was really cold. I’m not from a place that is so cold. The winters in general just kill me, but when I had to work outside in the winter on our home, it was really bad.”
But now they have a home.
“It feels good, really good,” Mahmood said. “To live in something you actually built it feels different and means more. We actually built a house.”
“I also admire how much she cares about her family,” Justis said of Mahmood. “She does all she can to help them.”
That same approach carried over to her Sky View family.
“Zaham is cheerful, friendly and concerned about others,” Justis said. “She is always willing to help a friend, a classmate or someone she just met. At Sky View, she was part of the Hope Squad and Peer Court.”
The teenager was chosen by her fellow classmates to be involved with those organizations.
“The Hope Squad tries to involve everybody,” Mahmood said. “We try to be there for people and give them hope. We talk and give students a chance to share their feelings.”
Asked about other extracurricular activities, she had a quick response.
“I can’t play sports,” Mahmood said with a big smile. “I’m not coordinated.”
However, anything dealing with sciences gets her the attention, especially biology and health.
“I want to go into the health field,” Mahmood said. “It’s something that I really find interesting.”
And she is already on her way into the health field. During her senior year Mahmood took classes at Bridgerland Technical College and has earned her CNA. She currently works at Autumn Care, an assisted living center in Hyde Park. Mahmood likened her first job to a stepping block as she would like to eventually become a physician’s assistant.
“I like helping people,” Mahmood said. “I don’t want to become a doctor. That takes lots of schooling and I’m not up to that.”
But she has done well in school and will graduate with a 3.7 grade-point average.
“Grades are really important to me, but I don’t feel like grades define people,” Mahmood said. “But grades can define how much hard work you have put in.”
Did she have a favorite class?
“I liked all of my classes,” Mahmood said. “Nothing really stood out to me because at the end of the day it’s school. I really liked all of my classes. I really like learning and try to take advantage of that.”
Mahmood said she has also liked all of her teachers. A counselor she met in middle school and who is now at Sky View has had the most influence on her.
“Mrs. Justis has been with me all the way up through high school,” Mahmood said. “She has been there for me the whole time. I feel very comfortable taking to her about stuff.”
And the feeling is mutual.
“While at Sky View, she was always thoughtful about what classes she took,” Justis said. “She took concurrent enrollment courses and Bridgerland courses and did what she could to progress towards her goal to attend a university and have a career in the medical field. I admire her desire to try new things. She is willing to put herself out there, move out of her comfort zone and give it her best.”