At Central Valley High School, William “Emmanuel” Welch is known for his charisma, positive outlook and infectious charm.
“When he walks in the room he lights it up with his personality,” said teacher Karissa Jacobson. “He truly has a passion for living life to the fullest. Because of what he’s seen in his past, he gets that life is truly a gift.”
Welch came to the U.S. from Liberia when he was 7, leaving behind family in a war-torn country filled with trauma.
“When I was in Africa I remember from my youngest age, maybe 3 years old, being carried out to the streets, moving from place to place to find a safe place to stay. Every day was surviving,” recalled Welch, describing how rebel soldiers sometimes took children from their families.
“I saw one of my friends get taken,” said Welch, who was about 6 and ran to get help. “It was an emotional moment. He was my only friend. I haven’t seen him since.”
He immigrated with his sister, who then drowned in a public pool. Later, a brother still in Africa was electrocuted while working on a utility pole.
These experiences and the fact he still has family in Liberia weigh on Welch, but the student said they also make him grateful.
“A lot of the teachers ask me why I’m so happy. Being here changed my life so much more than I can ever imagine,” Welch said. “I have people close to me that have helped me move through my high school career and life living. They’ve supported me, helping me. I’m so thankful for that.”
Welch grew up in the small town of Springdale, Washington, but moved in with his aunt as a sophomore because job opportunities were better in Spokane. He works at McDonald’s and spent one summer roofing.
At school, staff say his hard work and positive outlook inspire them.
“He went out of his way to spend a period of time mentoring a younger student who was struggling,” said Assistant Principal Brandon Deyarmin, describing how Welch asked for a way to give back, then walked to the elementary school, becoming a positive male role model.
“He doesn’t wait for someone to tell him what to do. He goes after it,” said Jacobson, noting Welch has a learning accommodation and opted to stay in high school this year to improve his reading, writing and math skills.
While in Liberia, Welch was exposed to high levels of lead in the water, resulting in a learning disability.
“I take a lot of time learning new things,” he said. “With Mrs. Jacobson’s help, I improved on that. I was struggling so much. She helped me achieve what I wanted.”
“Regardless of how you learn or if you have a learning disability, you can still be successful and still have a positive outlook in life and contribute to society in a positive manner,” Jacobson said. “He is living proof of that … he’s not taking it for granted. We all can learn something from this kid.”