Tufts Senior Portrait: Hanna Petros

The Class of 2019 graduate escaped political persecution in Eritrea. She now wants to use her clinical psychology training to help refugees
Hanna Petros
“The cold still shocks me—I’d never seen snow,” said Hanna Petros. Photo: Alonso Nichols
May 23, 2019

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When she graduates from Tufts this spring, Hanna Petros, A19, won’t have her parents alongside to celebrate. “My parents are political prisoners in Eritrea for almost eighteen years now,” she said. “My mother is alive, I know that. I don’t know about my father.”

Petros and her twin brother were also jailed when they were eighteen years old for trying to escape the country—a crime in the eyes of the dictatorship that imprisoned her parents. Two years later, assisted by smugglers, the siblings managed to get out, fleeing through the desert to Sudan. Traveling to Ethiopia, they spent two years anxiously awaiting a visa to settle in the United States. In 2012 they joined their younger sister and grandmother, who had already made it out of Eritrea and onto American soil.

Petros now lives not far from the Tufts Medford/Somerville campus. “The cold still shocks me, and I’d never seen snow”—she gestured at the icy detritus of a mid-February storm outside the window of the Danish Pastry House in Medford—“but I do love Boston.”

One reason for her affection for a cold northern city is the sense of belonging that she and her family have found in this area, which is home to one of the oldest Eritrean-American communities in the United States. She felt fortunate to have her first American home be near the Eritrean Community Center in Roxbury.

Soon after arriving, she landed a job as a server at the Boston Marriott Long Wharf hotel. While working full time there, Petros resolved to pursue the education that she was denied back home. After getting her associates degree at Bunker Hill Community College, she persevered to achieve her bachelor’s at Tufts University, as part of the R.E.A.L. Program, short for Resumed Education for Adult Learning. Driven by the desire to understand trauma and work with people that have gone through difficult times, Hanna has interned in places like the International Institute of New England (a nonprofit organization that works with refugees) and Home Base (a nonprofit that supports veterans dealing with PTSD).

Petros has sometimes shared her family’s story to shed a light on what is happening in her country—including offering testimony on human rights abuse before the United Nations—and also to encourage new refugees to pursue their dreams.

Petros and her husband Philmon, a fellow Tufts R.E.A.L student who also escaped Eritrea (“we weren’t married then”), are looking forward to graduation, she with a degree in clinical psychology. As Petros writes her next chapter, she hopes to further her education in clinical psychology to assist refugees in achieving psychological wellbeing.

But first comes the commencement ceremony—and taking a brief pause to reflect on how remarkably far she’s come. “I’ll enjoy that moment of achievement,” Petros said, “and go from there.”