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6/12/2013 4:20:00 AM
Ethiopian student graduates as valedictorian, Gates Scholar
Photo contributed by De La Salle North Catholic School
Melaku Arega and his sister, Enat, a junior at De La Salle North.
Photo contributed by De La Salle North Catholic School
Melaku Arega and his sister, Enat, a junior at De La Salle North.

As a child growing up in Teltele, Ethiopia, young Melaku Arega became very ill. His mother carried her 8-year-old boy on her back to find help, but it was a Sunday, and the clinics in town were closed.

Young Arega survived the night until a clinic opened the following morning, but the De La Salle North Catholic grad knew of many other children who were not so lucky.  

Six years later, Arega’s parents, Addisu Wolde and Aster Birke, made another hard sacrifice for their children’s survival. Arega’s father came to Oregon, working several jobs simultaneously to earn enough money to bring the rest of his family abroad, in hopes of providing more educational and professional opportunities for his children Arega and his sisters left their mother and brother in 2009, arriving in Portland with very little English. Arega enrolled as a freshman at Jefferson High School.

The parents’ sacrifice worked.

“What I experienced in my past is what drives me to get up every morning and genuinely be excited to go to school,” Arega said. “Everyday, I push myself a little harder.”

The family has since been reunited, and this month they witness Arega, 18, graduate as valedictorian at De La Salle North with a full ride Gates Millennium Scholarship. He will attend Johns Hopkins, and hopes to someday become a surgeon.

“In Ethiopia, these goals would have merely remained as dreams because I did not have such opportunities,” Arega said. “It is with great appreciation and gratitude that I will look forward to the day I will help my community through my skills and expertise I acquire by pursuing medicine.”

Arega was enrolled at De La Salle North his junior year on a scholarship. After two years’ practicing his English language skills by watching movies and television, keeping pen and pad nearby so he could record new words to learn, Arega started his junior year with a barely discernible accent.

“Melaku is a student who sees opportunity everywhere and embraces the challenges that come with education,” said Edward Zupcic, Arega’s economics/government teacher. “He is passionate about a wide variety of subjects, ambitious and has a clear sense of purpose.” Zupcic was the teacher that recommended Arega for the scholarship.

At De La Salle North, Arega joined the Constitution team, and despite his propensity toward math and science, he also worked tirelessly to understand American culture, laws and foundational principles. Zupcic believes the young man values these things uniquely because of his perspective.

“He is passionate about a wide variety of subjects, ambitious and has a clear sense of purpose,” Zupcic said.  “He is also willing to make the commitments necessary to achieve the goals that he has established for himself and, as his teacher, I witnessed this every day.”





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