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Garinger High graduate took a 5,300-mile journey to success

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It’s a long way from Niamey, Niger, to Charlotte – roughly 5,300 miles.

Yanick Gomez made the move four years ago as a 13-year-old. But he’s come a lot further than miles since then.

When Gomez and his older half-brother joined their mother and sisters in Charlotte in May 2009, Gomez knew no English. He misses his country and his father, who stayed behind to work and care for his own ailing mother, but he says he was “excited for a better future.”

Now, 17-year-old Gomez graduates Wednesday near the top of his class at Garinger High School and as the school’s first Gates Millennium Scholar, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

He’ll study mechanical engineering with a concentration on aerospace in the fall at North Carolina A&T University, where he’s already planning to graduate a year early so he can move on to master’s and doctoral degrees.

“Everything’s just mental,” Gomez said. “You can’t limit yourself.”

The family had come seeking better educational opportunities here.

Gomez was placed in the ninth grade at Garinger in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. His older sister, Tatiana, had spent years in ESL classes and found her college options limited as a result, Gomez said. He didn’t want that to happen to him, so he read and studied every day to learn and understand the language.

In just a year, Gomez had a sufficient grasp on the language to be placed in all regular education and honors classes – an unusual feat, school counselor Clevonne Manigat said.

“Yanick inspired me as a counselor … to be more open-minded of people that are put into a new environment and not to limit them, but to push them as much as possible,” Manigat said.

Gomez has found inspiration and motivation from a number of people in his life.

His mother, Lydie, is limited in her work ability by an injury and wouldn’t be able to afford Gomez’s college education without help. His school soccer coach saw potential in Gomez and encouraged him not to quit in soccer or life when things got hard.

His father has been a role model for Gomez. They’re expecting to see each other for the first time in four years for graduation this week.

“One of the reasons why I strive hard here and I work hard to do a lot of things that may seem impossible is to show him and to make him proud,” Gomez said.

And he’s made a lot of people around him proud.

Gomez is a quiet young man, but when he told his counselor and teachers that he had won the Gates Millennium Scholarship, he said they were the ones dancing and screaming.

“It was a win for all of us,” Manigat said. “It just goes back to what type of young man he is. He doesn’t look at something you put in front of him and say, ‘Oh, my chances are slim; I’m not going to apply.’ If you give him something, then he’s going to go forward, keeping in mind that he will be the one that’s chosen.”

Gomez is thankful for the help and encouragement he received from people like Manigat when he first came to Charlotte, which is why he’s become a tutor and mentor to area immigrant children through One7 Ministries, a local Christian ministry.

“It’s great because I see myself in each and every one of them,” Gomez said. “I know that the way they are being taught and the things that they’re learning now, I didn’t learn when I was a kid. I see potential in them to do great in their lives.”

Ellis: 704-358-5298
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