Seventh in a series
Its 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 hes 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 schools first Gates Millennium Scholar, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Hell study mechanical engineering with a concentration on aerospace in the fall at North Carolina A&T University, where hes already planning to graduate a year early so he can move on to masters and doctoral degrees.
Everythings just mental, Gomez said. You cant 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 didnt 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 wouldnt be able to afford Gomezs 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. Theyre 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 hes 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 doesnt look at something you put in front of him and say, Oh, my chances are slim; Im not going to apply. If you give him something, then hes going to go forward, keeping in mind that he will be the one thats chosen.
Gomez is thankful for the help and encouragement he received from people like Manigat when he first came to Charlotte, which is why hes become a tutor and mentor to area immigrant children through One7 Ministries, a local Christian ministry.
Its 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 theyre learning now, I didnt learn when I was a kid. I see potential in them to do great in their lives.
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