By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau
The five alumni who will be inducted into the Grand Canyon University Hall of Fame on Saturday all have demonstrated tireless dedication.
Hagir Elsheikh, Reginald Freeman, Randi (Johns) Riggs, George Holm and Sharky Baker have shown compassion for the University and/or their community and have been highly successful professionally. But in the case of Elsheikh, she first had to survive.
Before settling in Pennsylvania in 2001, Elsheikh had to flee from the threat of political violence and torture in Sudan after becoming an activist to fight the regime in the African country. But starting a new life in America didn’t put an end to her struggles.
Elsheikh said she was subjected to domestic violence, both while she was pregnant and after giving birth to her two daughters. But then she started a new life and set out to raise her children on her own.
One thought went through her mind when she heard stories from domestic violence victims:
"I found myself questioning, 'Why did you stay?'” Elsheikh said. “When I went through this myself, it answered a lot of questions for me. I knew that I stayed because I wanted to help this person. I had an illusion in my mind about ‘I can change someone,’ and at the same time you feel the pain this is the person you chose, this is one you wanted to build a life with. A lot of things go through your mind that prevent you from making a step to get out of that bad situation.”
Elsheikh struggled to find a university that would work with her on her schedule and provide her with the support she needed to get her degree on her own terms. After hearing about GCU from a friend, Elsheikh chose the University's online program.
But her nursing degree in 2012 was just the start of her accomplishments.
Shortly after receiving her degree, she founded HSE Staffing Agency, which pairs health care providers with skilled employees. She also returned to her former community college, Harrisburg Area Community College, as a clinical instructor and board member.
When her business began generating income for her, she was able to find time to focus on using her story to help other people and give back to her community.
“I thought of all of that as a way of helping someone out there who may be in doubt, and I started just talking to people about my life story and what I’ve been through and giving them advice and it did help,” said Elsheikh, who will visit GCU for the first time when she arrives for Saturday's Hall of Fame induction ceremony. “It made me feel like I can use my misery to make someone else’s life better, and that’s where I started thinking about creating the nonprofit organization.”
That nonprofit is Tomorrow's Smiles, which Elsheikh created in 2015 to help victims of any kind of violence. But that isn't her only charitable contribution to the community -- she is an active volunteer for Meals on Wheels, Capital Area Coalition on Homelessness, Pennsylvania Alliance Against Trafficking in Humans, the YWCA and Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
She also created a podcast on human trafficking, hosts a TV talk show called The Hagir Show and co-hosts a live radio talk show called TSO (Teens Speak Out), all in her free time.
Her work and continued service have not gone unrecognized.
In 2017, Central Penn Business Journal recognized her as one of its Women of Influence, and she was named a Health Care Hero by Central Penn Parent. Reader's Choice named HSE "Simply the Best Staffing Agency in Central Pennsylvania," and she recently was honored in Pennsylvania’s "Year of the Woman" recognition.
Although the recognition is nice, Elsheikh says that’s not what motivates her. She doesn't do it “so people can say thank you,” she does it because it makes her “feel happy” and gives her life meaning. She also hopes that by inspiring others with her story, “somebody will see this and think, ‘OK, I can do it.’”
“What I always say is, if I can do it with everything that I’ve been through, it is not impossible,” Elsheikh said. “So now maybe the students at GCU that get a chance to hear my life story can look at it and say, ‘You know what? If she went through all of this and she’s able to make something out of herself or even just succeed in raising her kids and giving back to her community, then I can do this.’”
SATURDAY'S HOMECOMING SCHEDULE:
7 a.m. -- Golf tournament (GCU Golf Course)
9 a.m. -- Brunch with Thunder (The Lope House, GCU Golf Course)
1 p.m. -- Coffee Hour with Future Alumni Board (Student Union, GCBC, 2nd Floor)
2 p.m. -- Campus tours (Tent outside of Antelope Reception Center)
3:30 p.m. -- Hall of Fame induction ceremony (Student Union, Library, 4th Floor)
4:30 p.m. -- BBQ tailgate and derby kart races (Quad)
7 p.m. -- Men’s basketball game (GCU Arena)
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected]
Words & Wins: Meet the Remarkable Hagir Elsheikh