PORTLAND — When she first arrived in this country, Hind Al Shammari wanted to learn English as quickly as possible so she could fit in.

Now Al Shammari, who will graduate from Portland High School on Thursday, June 6, said she’s proud of her heritage and is delighted to have earned the special seal of bi-literacy, which highlights her fluency in both English and Arabic.

In addition to the bi-literacy medal, Al Shammari will also wear a purple cord during graduation to recognize her participation in the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute.

Al Shammari, who was born in Iraq, is the youngest of five siblings and came to the U.S. with her family when she was 8. All of her older siblings graduated from Portland High, and she said she’s happy to carry on that tradition.

She’s the first in her family, however, to be accepted into a four-year college program; Al Shammari will attend the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where she plans to study nursing.

Al Shammari said she chose the university because her older brother lives in Las Vegas with his family. She plans to live with them, which will provide a key support system as she focuses on her studies.

While Al Shammari said she loves the ocean and thinks Portland is a great place to live, she’s also happy to be headed to Nevada and its warmer climate. “I really like it there,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”

Pursuing a nursing degree is a relatively new life choice for Al Shammari, who said she always thought she wasn’t that good at science.

“I originally focused on community relations because I love to talk,” she said. But when her nephew was born at Maine Medical Center about a year and a half ago, she had what she called the “best conversation” with a labor and delivery nurse.

Their meeting changed everything.

“The nurse told me that going into nursing was one of the best decisions she ever made,” Al Shammari said. “She also told me how important a career in nursing is and how you have to be caring and compassionate and a good communicator.”

Al Shammari said her belief that she had no aptitude for science was “just a mindset. Now I’m actually really loving my science classes, especially AP bio.”

Al Shammari said she likes working with children, so is contemplating becoming a pediatric nurse. “I also enjoy a fast-paced environment,” she said, “so maybe I’ll end up in an emergency room somewhere.”

She may come back to Maine, too, because Al Shammari is aware the state faces a severe nursing shortage that’s only getting worse.

“Maine is such a great state. It’s so good for family life and so safe. I love the ocean, too, and I am sad to leave, so we’ll see,” she said.

Although Portland students have the choice between three different public high schools, Al Shammari said she never thought about attending any other school.

“I’ve met some really amazing people at PHS and I’m so grateful for the opportunities I’ve gotten here,” she said.

One stroke of good fortune, Al Shammari said, was being accepted into the Olympia Snowe leadership program. It’s a three-year commitment and encourages girls to think about using their own values, voices and visions to make the world a better place.

“It’s been a great experience, it’s been really amazing,” Al Shammari said. “We learned how to pursue our path without compromising our values.”

Al Shammari has also been involved in the Women’s Rights Club and the Maine Youth Court. “I like to be active in my community and make a difference,” she said.

Of everything she’s accomplished, however, Al Shammari said she might be most proud of earning the seal of bi-literacy, which involves extensive testing to show mastery of more than one language.

Although she only wanted to focus on English language acquisition when she came to Maine, Al Shammari said as she got older she realized just how important it was to hold on to her native language and keep that connection to her culture and history.

Al Shammari said she mostly bolstered her flagging Arabic skills by watching movies and television shows filmed in Arabic, as well as listening to Arabic music.

While Al Shammari has now made a commitment to stay true to her roots, she still has a lot to learn, she said.

Al Shammari is Muslim and said it’s taken her a while to embrace her religion.

“I struggled with my identity a lot” while growing up, she said. “There was also a push and pull between home and school.”

She said she used to ask, “What is my place? But now I’m comfortable with myself and I can truly say, I am who I am.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 780-9097 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Hind Al Shammari will graduate from Portland High School on Thursday, June 6. She plans to attend the University of Nevade, Las Vegas, and become a nurse.