Salutatorian Shares Story of Overcoming Learning Challenges

Julie Bitely

| 3 min read

High school senior Eunice Eyamba has made the Dean’s list every year. She’s an all-conference runner and salutatorian of her class. She has her pick of colleges, having been accepted to Michigan State University, Aquinas College and Ohio State University.
For all her personal triumphs, Eyamba, who attends Innovation Central High School in Grand Rapids, was once struggling to fit in. She overcame steep learning challenges to become the standout student she is today.
Eyamba shared her experiences at a recent Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation’s MindShare fundraising gala. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan was a sponsor of the event. Speaking in front of the massive crowd was just one more thing Eyamba couldn’t have imagined as a struggling student in elementary school.
She’d made it through the third grade in Calabar, Nigeria. When she was seven, her mother, two siblings, and Eyamba moved to the Grand Rapids area to be with her father.
When she came to the United States, she was placed in the fourth grade at a local elementary school. She was one of only two African-American students at the school. When she struggled to keep up with her classmates, she was moved down to the second grade. Eyamba said she became known as “a dumb, African kid.”
She explained that as a minority with an accent who was also struggling to read, kids weren’t very kind.
“I felt ashamed and began to believe what others were saying about me,” Eyamba said.
A supportive family helped her through these hard times. She resolved to read for 30 minutes every day with a desire to become “one of the smartest kids in my school.”
“The library became my second home and it’s still one of my favorite places to be,” she said.
Eyamba was eventually transferred to Grand Rapids Public Schools’ Palmer Elementary School. A teacher there told her about the Van Andel Education Institute’s Science Academy program. Eyamba attended for three summers and discovered a love for science that continues to this day.
At Innovation Central, Eyamba is enrolled in the Academy of Modern Engineering. Her sights are set on becoming a pediatrician. After overcoming so many challenges to get to where she is today, Eyamba said she takes nothing for granted.
“The doors of opportunity are open to me and every day I do my best to take advantage of them,” Eyamba said.
If she could tell 7-year-old Eunice one thing, it would be that “it gets better,” she said.
What inspired you most about Eunice’s story? Share with us in the comments.
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