Sherief Elkatsha, Graduate of 1991, “CAC gave me a fantastic education inside and out of the classroom, and the friendships I made there would last my entire life. “ Sherif el Katsha, 2021.
Sherif ElKatsha, CAC Alum and class of 91’, shared with us his personal memories from his time at CAC. A person’s school impacts his personality, and plays an influential role forming their identities. Elkatsha was born in the US, raised in Cairo and currently lives between Cairo and New York, with the goal of bridging the two cultures.
He’s been working in film and television for the last 20 years, and currently editing his 3rd documentary feature about 12 musicians from different countries along the Nile River basin, on their US Tour.
Sherief attended CAC from 1980 to 1991. Living in Cairo during the 1980’s was an amazingly unique experience. “At CAC, we were diverse before we knew there was a term for it, from all over the world, and sometimes shocked to learn that the rest of the world was not always on the same page,” he explained.
CAC teachers come from all over the world with a variety of stories and life experiences to share. “ I still fondly remember our sixth grade trip to Luxor, or reading the first few chapters of Moby Dick, floating on a felucca down the Nile in Kay Hamblin’s English class, or camping in the Bahareya oasis with the Yearbook and Ecology classes…The 24 hour marathon…the endless hours socializing on the high school field,” added Sherif. As he grows older, CAC continues to be a part of his life as the experiences gained and the friendships and memories made are unforgettable.
When asked about how his time here is still a part of his life, ElKatsha had this to say, “I continue to visit the theater where I performed in countless plays, directed with love and support by a mentor, Robert Marshall. I was proud to come back to that same theater to screen my last documentary, Cairo Drive, and was inspired when I attended a recent NHS graduation ceremony.” “I am eternally grateful for the years I spent at CAC, and am inspired and encouraged as I meet the new faces and generations that continue to graduate from my alma mater,” Sherief added.
In 2013 Elkatsha premiered his third feature documentary, Cairo Drive, awarded “The Best Film from the Arab World” - documentary competition, at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival 2013, Grand Jury Prize at DOC NYC 2014.
“The Nile will never really leave me, nor will CAC” - Michelle Jonson, 2020
Award winning vocalist and singer songwriter Michelle Johnson has performed on Broadway, national television, and across the world with many other artists. She is the daughter of Martinus Johnson, a former Liberian diplomat who once served as the Liberian Ambassador to Egypt, and Barbara Johnson, who worked at CAC for many years as a teacher, principal and superintendent. The family moved to Cairo when Michelle was 4 years old, and she attended CAC from 1st grade to 2nd grade and then again from 5th grade until high school graduation in 1982.
Affectionately known as “Las Vegas’ First Lady of Jazz”, her soaring vocals, versatile repertoire, and ability to engage an audience in a dynamic, personal, and intimate way have made her a favorite in cabarets and performing arts centers across the country.
Michelle Johnson is a Yale graduate and the recipient of the National Association of Women Business Owners Woman of Distinction Award for her contributions in entertainment. She is also the 2020 Las Vegas Black Music Awards recipient of the Lena Horne Award for Musical Excellence.
We got in touch with Michelle and asked her to share with us her memories of her time at CAC. Here is what she had to say,” Unlike a lot of students who only got to attend CAC for a few years before their parents’ jobs were transferred elsewhere, I got to spend the bulk of my childhood in Egypt. I lived there for 12 years – from age 4 to 7 and then again from age 10 to 18. So many amazing memories. I watched the school go from what we called the “pre-fabs” to a school with a pool, a real track, and several new buildings. I could not believe the amazing changes when I went back in 2000. Especially the theater building. Fantastic! By now it must be unreal.”
Johnson also shared with us the small meaningful memories like the smell of Freshly baked “Baladi” bread she used to buy from a cart. She explained that during her time here, she felt very safe walking anywhere and staying out late.
“CAC had a profound impact on my career. It all started when I entered a talent contest in 5th grade, and later took choir with Barbara Wymore and Melanie VonSprecken and drama with Debbie Fintak. Those teachers prepared me for a life in theater and music. From Hello Dolly and Bye Bye Birdie to The Crucible and On Golden Pond and many more shows, I learned to sightread, to act, and to be resilient and prepared for anything. The lessons I learned at CAC about self-empowerment, pursuing excellence, and persisting through trials and tribulations are evident throughout all of my shows and my original music. These are themes that drive my life and my art. I call myself a “motivational singer”, and CAC gave me a spark that I try to pay forward at every performance. I cannot imagine a better way to grow up,” she further added.
H.E. Yousef Al Otaiba, Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to the United States (US) is an alum and graduate of the class of 1991 at Cairo American College (CAC). He originally began his diplomatic career as Senior Advisor and Director of International Affairs for Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. Now at the UAE Embassy in Washington DC, he has played a major role in enhancing UAE-US relations in military cooperation, trade and economic development and cultural exchange. Most recently, his contribution to the Abraham Accords landed him on the TIME 100 list of the most influential people in the world. In addition to his ambassadorship, he was elevated to Emirati Minister of State in 2017. He also serves the Leadership Council for the Harvard Kennedy School, the Board of Trustees for the American University in Cairo and the Board of Directors for the Special Olympics.
Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba has countless great memories to share with us about his wonderful time at CAC. “Growing up during the 80’s in Cairo and attending one of the best, if not the best school in the Middle East is something I only truly appreciated later in life,” Al Otaiba explained. “CAC was far more than just a first class educational experience. It was sports, arts, CACMUN, after school activities, and most importantly, lifelong friendships. Whether it was studying for a test (that I was inadequately prepared for) or mentally preparing for our next soccer game, CAC constantly triggers happy memories,” he added.
As we spoke to Ambassador Al Otaiba, we could not help but notice how fondly he remembered his time at CAC in Egypt. He spoke to us about having spent his childhood in a fun and safe environment, where he was able to form strong bonds with his teammates on sports trips, and at the international school. “There were also school dances, which I occasionally DJ’ed.That’s right, when my DJ career failed I opted for diplomacy,” added the UAE Ambassador.
Al Otaiba further added, “One anecdote that I think is very interesting is about one year ago two of our friends started a whatsapp group chat for a contingent of the class of 91 alumni. Let me just say that this group has been nothing but non stop entertainment, a support mechanism, a way to immediately feel better during tough times, and truly one of the best things we’ve all experienced in 2020.”
The CAC alum was an active student who took part in different activities from CACMUN to working backstage with the Drama Production team. He also recalls his involvement in many different sports activities, which he says have played a huge factor in who has become today, “I remember our fierce battles against the French (Les Blue) school and the British School (the biscuits). We almost always beat every school we played with. But the Egyptian clubs gave us a run for our money.”
These are just a few of the many great memories that our alumni share with us during their time at CAC. We look forward to hearing from our alumni around the world all they have to say about their memories here.