Mobile Main Navigation

Header Holder (Sticky Header)

Header Top

Header Bottom

Landing Nav


UNIS Hanoi Senior Fostering Inclusion through Empowering Others

“If I had gone to another school, I definitely would not have had the same experience.”

As high school is coming to a close, Iris van de Velden (Class of 2023), who has spent 15 years at UNIS Hanoi, is celebrating her remarkable transformation and achievements in not only overcoming personal challenges but also having a lasting impact on the School and Hanoi community.

Fondly known as a UNIS Hanoi lifer, starting UNIS Hanoi at the age of three, Iris faced numerous academic and social hurdles during her elementary school years. "There was a lot of frustration, being unable to understand what was going on with me," Iris remembered. In Grade 6, she was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a neurodevelopmental condition that affects her behaviour. For Iris, this diagnosis was a turning point. "My parents were happy as they finally understood why my mind went 300 miles per hour and, more importantly, they knew how to help me," explained Iris. 

With interventions put in place at home and school, Iris began to see positive changes in her academic and social life. In Grade 7, she had her first 8 in art, then in math. Iris found it easier to make friends and maintain friendships. The Dutch-American student took on the leading role participating in a student leadership conference in Grade 12 and discovered her love for art in high school, which led her to do IB art. She said, "It’s been a huge shift for me, a very positive one, and for the whole family as well". 

In Grade 10, encouraged by her learning support teachers, Iris took her personal experience with ADHD and turned it into a powerful project. The young girl gave the first presentation to the elementary school teachers. Rather than focusing on ADHD’s medical side, Iris courageously shared with the audience her personal experience, what tactics worked for her, and how teachers could apply them to support other students. She said, "Teachers know about ADHD in theory, but it remains a very distant and uncomfortable topic. Hearing from a real person they knew and having watched me grow up evoked their emotional connection and offered them another perspective on the disorder."

After the overwhelmingly positive response to her first speech, Iris embarked on a mission to create awareness and foster inclusivity within the UNIS Hanoi community and beyond. She continued to do more presentations. Her heartfelt talks touched and empowered not only teachers and students at School, but also the educators in Hanoi at the Learning Together Conference 2023 and other parents and peers from schools around the capital.

Iris's efforts were recognised when she received the SENIA World Changer Award in Grade 10 and, recently, the Dr Frances Rhodes Community Service Award at UNIS Hanoi, acknowledging her commitment to inclusion and leadership. These awards are important achievements for the 18-year-old, but what truly made Iris feel accomplished was helping others. Her presentation and friendship inspired a young Japanese student with ADHD at another school to give a presentation of his own and thereby inspire and educate others. His SENIA World Changer Award the following year was one of the nicest gifts to her.

Reflecting on her journey, the IB art student expresses gratitude for the supportive community at UNIS Hanoi. She credits caring teachers and compassionate learning support staff for believing in her abilities and playing a crucial role in her growth. Iris shares, "If I had gone to another school, I definitely would not have had the same experience. The reason why the elementary school teachers were so emotional about my presentation was because they knew me as a child. I am grateful for my loving parents and UNIS Hanoi’s supportive community. Without them, none of this would have happened."

After graduation, Iris is hoping to pursue a career in prop-making, where she can indulge in her artistic interests. She plans to enhance her skills and create her art portfolio for the next six months in the USA. As Iris embarks on the next phase of her life, we celebrate her achievements as a resilient leader and advocate for inclusivity. Her impact on UNIS Hanoi and those around her is immeasurable, inspired by her determination and dedication to making the world a more inclusive place for all.