This summer, when Nnenna Ujah steps up to the podium to receive her diploma, she will have taken a path unlike anyone else in her graduating class. At 16, she will be one of the youngest seniors to ever graduate from Leesville Road High School.
Growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, Ujah began school at the customary age of two, along with the rest of the toddlers in her village. However, at age 14, she left her home in Africa to move to North Carolina with her father, who had been in the United States for three years.
“I was sad to leave behind my old life [in Nigeria], but I missed my dad, and I was glad to see him,” said Ujah.
Moving across the world would be difficult for most people, yet Ujah has handled the situation surprisingly well. “Raleigh has definitely taken some getting used to, but I like it here. After you get to know how things work, you start to enjoy it more and more.”
Immediately after moving, the first difference Ujah noticed were the schools in America. Unlike at Leesville, discipline in Lagos is enforced through corporal punishment.
Corporal punishment describes the practice by which disobedient and lazy students are beaten by their teachers and administrators. Ujah said with a laugh, “I always made sure I did my work, everyone did. Nobody wanted to get hit!”
However, not everything in North Carolina was new to Nnenna. “I still listen to music and hang out with my friends, just like I would back home. Being a teenager is something that doesn’t change regardless of where you go in the world.”
Ujah explained that her closest friends are all seniors, even though they are at least two years older than her. Ujah said,” I don’t care how old they are and neither do they. As long as they care about me, that’s all that matters.”
As a graduating senior, Ujah has thought about her future and decided that she would like to stay in America. “I’ve applied to State, ECU, and UNC- Pembroke, and I hope to get into at least one school. Moving to America has been remarkable, and for now, I’m more than happy to stay here.”