Refugee graduates from Jesuit college, pursues medical career
June 20, 2016 — Zacharia Mohamed, 22, never thought he would have a formal education, let alone graduate from college. But with hard work, perseverance and encouragement from his professors, Mohamed graduated this May with a degree in biological sciences from Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York.
Born in Somalia, Mohamed was separated from his parents as a baby when civil war broke out. He fled with his older sister, Shurki, to the Kakuma Refugee Camp in northwest Kenya. During their 10 years in the camp, Mohamed recalled seeing interminable lines at the medical clinic where refugees stood or lay waiting for treatment. The memory stayed with Mohamed as he later considered a vocation as a family doctor.
In 2005, Mohamed and his sister migrated to the United States with the help of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Catholic Charities. He then was able to attend school for the first time, but spoke no English and struggled through his first years.
“I couldn't talk to anybody, so it was really challenging,'' he said. “It took me a while. I remember finally being able to read the 'Cat in the Hat.'”
In 2009, while Mohamed was attending Nottingham High School in Syracuse, his sister fell down a staircase, rendering her blind. Mohamed was homeless while she was hospitalized. When he finally moved into an apartment, he became the sole caretaker for his two young nephews and sister and missed a lot of school as a result. But he eventually graduated and, with the encouragement of his teachers, applied and was accepted to Le Moyne College in 2012.
“College was a dream, but something I never thought could happen,” he said.
Finding a balance between his studies and responsibilities at home was difficult. In addition to his own work, Mohamed tutored STEM (science, technology, engineering and medicine) students at two high schools in the area and at Le Moyne.
“At times he thought he should quit college and stay home full time,” said Darshini Roopnarine, Le Moyne's director of the Collegiate Science, Technology and Engineering Program and Mohamed’s mentor. “I would tell him the best thing he can do is finish school as that would help his family more in the long term.”
After years of struggle and persistence, Mohamed graduated from Le Moyne and will begin studies at Upstate Medical University in the fall of 2016.
“I've always taken my schooling seriously, because I know I'm blessed to have the opportunity,” he said. “I've received a lot of help along the way from other people, and that's why I now want to help others.” [Source: Syracuse.com]