Many GHC students have tales to tell about meeting challenges, overcoming hardship, proving naysayers wrong, triumphing against all odds. Alumnus Ike Nwokike is one member of an entire family who keep winning in spite of the roadblocks in their way. The Nwokike story parallels the saga of millions of American immigrants who settled the colonies to escape religious repression or reached the shores of Ellis Island 100 years later, determined to find a better life. Their hard work and focus built this country during the industrial revolution. American determination and courage helped defeat Hitler and spawned the Greatest Generation. U.S. ingenuity sent men to the moon, and it brought an ill-fated mission, Apollo 13, back again against daunting odds.
Nwokike can now claim to be one of these intrepid Americans. His story in the United States begins when he was just 17. His father had sent him to Atlanta from his home in Nigeria because a colleague who had previously immigrated to America promised to look after him. He arrived at the dawn of the new millennium and was set up in an apartment. He began work at two jobs, as a janitor at Ridgeview Institute, a mental health care facility, and as a pizza-maker at Domino’s. He knew he wanted to attend college, but he faced the challenge of funding his education. As an international student without U.S. citizenship, he had to save enough to pay for his tuition, fees and books before enrolling each semester. So he would attend one semester, then drop out to save enough for the next. He was facing years before he earned a bachelor’ degree.
Thus, he set out on an extraordinary educational journey. Nwokike enrolled in 2004 at the University of West Georgia. Once he successfully finished his semester there he continued working to save money for his second semester. After completing his second semester, however, one of life’s unexpected twists temporarily halted his progress. As he was saving money for more classes, Nwokike learned that his father was ill. Because medical services and facilities in Nigeria are scant and lack the diagnostic and treatment technology that abounds in the U.S., Nwokike used his savings to bring his father to this country for medical treatment in 2009. During tests before surgery, doctors discovered additional medical issues that required their attention. That meant Nwokike had to get a third job to ensure that his father got the medical and post-operative care he needed.
He also tried to persuade his father to stay in this country, but his dad missed the familiar, as well as his friends and job, so he returned to Nigeria. Nwokike, on the other hand, embraced the American dream. He became a U.S. citizen in 2011, and brought three brothers and a sister to Georgia. A fourth brother went to England, where he is finishing a degree at Greenwich London College. One brother will enroll at Georgia State University this fall. One is a successful mechanic. And the youngest brother, who has a learning disability that was unable to be assessed and addressed in Nigeria, is doing well academically. He will complete his GED and be ready to enter college this fall, hopefully at Georgia Highlands. His sister is currently a student at Georgia Highlands. Throughout the vagaries of this hectic decade in his life he received two associate degrees, one in biology at GHC in 2011 and one in nursing in 2012. He just earned his Bachelor of Science in biology from Georgia State this past spring.
Six siblings. Each a hard worker. Each paying his or her way. That’s a success story of epic proportions, but this story isn’t finished. In fact, Nwokike’s education is far from complete.
At Georgia Highlands Nwokike discovered financial aid options when he enrolled as an American citizen. He received a federal loan and the HOPE scholarship so that he could move toward his goals more quickly. A more ready flow of tuition funds wasn’t the only aid to staying focused, however.
He also greatly benefitted from the fellowship and mentoring he received through Brother2Brother, a fraternal and support organization for minority male students. And like others before him, he wanted to see that others benefitted from the same attention. So for the past two years he has worked as a counselor at the summer Foundation Camp, a free sports and learning camp for boys who might never be exposed to college otherwise. While working as a counselor on the Floyd campus this summer, Nwokike received an acceptance letter from the Medical School at Morehouse College. He began his medical studies there on July 1. There’s no doubt that Dr. Ike Nwokike will allow his experiences of hardship and triumph alike to guide his interactions with patients and families. There is also no doubt that his past will make him a better, more compassionate doctor.
Nwokike and so many other students like him have come to America and succeeded. If, like the inscription on the Statue of Liberty says, these resourceful achievers are the “tired, poor, huddled masses,” we should hope for many more like them. We are indeed fortunate to welcome them to our shores – for they form the heart and soul of our country at its best.