As Alvan Makoundi-Tchibinda walks across the stage with nearly 800 others at Central Piedmont Community College on Thursday, he leaves with two degrees. He also completes an obligation to his family in central Africa.
And now he is free to imagine a life of his own design.
Born in the nation of Congo, Makoundi-Tchibinda, 22, lived through two civil wars as a child before coming to the United States for college at 18.
He had plans to study in London or Paris, but his parents decided he should stay in Charlotte to look after his younger brother at CPCC. His brother was too young at the time to come to Charlotte alone. A second brother has since enrolled.
“As the firstborn in the family, you have some responsibilities to take on,” he said. “I had to pay attention to what my brothers do. I have to make sure they pay attention to their classes. I have to follow up with that since I don’t have any parents here. Whenever they have an issue, I have to make sure it is resolved and fixed.”
Makoundi-Tchibinda said earlier this week that he regards his time in Charlotte as a blessing. This year, he was president of the student government association and a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society.
He earned an associate degree in applied science, which allowed him to focus on accounting, and an associate of arts degree that will make it possible to transfer to Queens University of Charlotte in the fall. He plans to study finance.
Teachers, mentors, advisers and friends all eased the challenges for him, he said.
Julien Makoundi-Tchibinda, 21, his brother, also will graduate and is headed to architecture school in Canada. Klaudio Saizonou, 21, who is biologically a first cousin but recognized as a brother, will attend UNC Charlotte next year.
The three plan to celebrate with four cousins, whom they regard as sisters, before they leave their apartment for good.
“It is a happy time for us, since we are all closing a chapter of our lives and opening another one in different places,” Alvan Makoundi-Tchibinda said.
“As a big brother, you just worry about everything. But I am confident, and I am hoping everything will go well, and we will be able to meet every summer to share our experiences and to make sure everything is going OK.”
Fleeing Congo’s capital
Alvan Makoundi-Tchibinda says he was about 4 when civil war first forced his family to leave their home in Brazzaville, Congo’s capital and largest city. He remembers gun blasts and other disturbances before they fled.
“I can only say thanks to God and my parents for getting us out,” he said.
The family returned about a year later but left for good when the fighting started again. They resettled in Pointe-Noir, the republic’s second-largest city.
He was drawn to chemistry, physics and natural sciences; reading occupied much of his time outside of school. He also used some of his time to take apart any toys that were powered by electricity. It was purely a curiosity.
“It drives my parents crazy, but I wanted to learn how it works,” he said.
It was time spent at work with his father that ultimately shaped his career path.
“My dad asked me if I could work with him to see if there was anything I would be interested in,” he said. “I worked in accounting. I loved it.”
Karen Sullivan: 704-358-5532, @Sullivan_kms
Last graduation for Zeiss
More than 1,800 CPCC students were eligible to participate in Thursday’s graduation ceremony at Bojangles’ Coliseum, said Mallory Benz, a spokeswoman for CPCC.
Nearly 800 are expected to cross the stage after a commencement address by Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio.
CPCC President Tony Zeiss plans to hand out diplomas for the last time. Zeiss, 70, intends to retire in July after 23 years as president of the institution that has seen unprecedented growth under his leadership.
Zeiss said his own story is not so different from that of many students. He is a first-generation college graduate, he said.
Zeiss earned a doctorate in community college administration from Nova University, a master’s degree in speech (radio and television), and a bachelor’s degree in speech education from Indiana State University.
He is also a former board chairman of the American Association of Community Colleges, past board chair for the League for Innovation and was the Association of Community College Trustees’ National CEO of the year for 2004-05.
“I don’t know where you could do more meaningful things than in education,” Zeiss told the Observer this week. “That’s been one of the great pleasures in life.”