Graduates to Watch

Deering High grad Ladislas Nzeyimana plans to attend Bowdoin College on a full scholarship. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Ladislas “Ladi” Nzeyimana offered some advice the other day to the freshman he’s been mentoring at Deering High School.

AUGUSTA, ME – FEBRUARY 25: Ladislas Nzeyimana speaks during a Maine Youth Justice event on Tuesday February 25, 2020 at the Capital Judicial Center in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

“Take advantage of the opportunities you get,” he said. A straightforward suggestion, but it’s just one of the ways Nzeyimana has been able to thrive in daunting circumstances.

Nzeyimana, 17, grew up in Burundi, a central African country plagued by war, poverty, political corruption and environmental devastation.

At age 9, he began working after school in his family’s store in Bujumbura, the nation’s largest city, with a population over 1 million. His father had moved to the United States in 2010, seeking a better life for his family.

In 2016, Nzeyimana, his mother and two siblings came to Portland, where his father works at the Tyson/Barber Foods processing plant. Already an accomplished student, Ladi Nzeyimana arrived skilled in English, French, Swahili and Kirundi.

He quickly became a leader at Deering High, where he is president of the student body and the Black Student Union. Known for his engaging and helpful personality, he’s also a member of the varsity soccer team and many other school and community groups.

School officials described Nzeyimana as “the single most prolific and dynamic” student to participate in Make It Happen, a decade-old program that prepares multilingual students for the college admissions process.

As a youth organizer for Portland Empowered, a community nonprofit that promotes educational access, he led the effort to create the Portland Youth Council, a panel that advises the City Council on policy decisions.

He also completed two summer internships with Gateway to Opportunity, a program for Portland-area teens offered through the University of Southern Maine. He tutored multilingual children at the Boys & Girls Club in Portland, and he created a video for Idexx in Westbrook that encourages young Mainers to pursue careers in technology.

He also works part time, previously at McDonald’s and now as a nutrition aide at Maine Medical Center. Like his father and mother, who works at a nursing home, he has continued to work each Saturday through the coronavirus pandemic, wearing a mask and other protective gear.

Nzeyimana plans to attend Bowdoin College on full scholarship and pursue a career that combines his interests in computer science, engineering and public service.

After seeing how the pandemic has affected people differently, depending on their income and access to food, shelter and medical care, he hopes to help people who lack the means to sustain themselves.

“I feel the possibility is there for me to unify people,” he said. “Many people I met along the way have made this possible for me. I need to find a path to support others in the community the way I have been supported.”

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