• From a developing country to the Ivy League

    Senior Plaxides Njeri with the Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School Principal and Dean of Students

    Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School graduating senior Plaxides Njeri (center) with Principal Dr. Stephanie Smith (right) and Dean of Students Dr. Sonja Poole (left).

    STUDENT: Plaxides Njeri

    SCHOOL: Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School

    COLLEGE: Cornell University

    May 29, 2018

    Imagine a teenager who not only had never seen a pizza, they didn’t even know what a pizza was! That was the reality for Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School’s Plaxides Njeri when her family received green cards in 2013 and moved here from their village in Kenya.

    At 13 years old, Plaxides helped her single mother with cooking, household responsibilities and taking care of her two younger siblings so her mother could work multiple jobs to financially support the family. At the time, her mother also started taking classes to become a medication technician at an assisted living facility.

    In their Kenyan village, Plaxides’s family spoke Swahili and Kikuyu. Plaxides knew English, but she says she still had trouble communicating when she first moved to the United States. It took a while just to figure out what “y’all” means.

    Culture Shock

    And then there was the culture shock. Plaxides’s village did not have a sewage system or running water. She had never seen a microwave and didn’t know what cheese was. In North Carolina, she now had running water and indoor plumbing, air conditioning, hundreds of television channels and a world of new food options, like pizza.

    But Plaxides didn’t allow herself to get distracted by all the luxuries of her new world. Because of the language barrier, she had to work harder in school than most of her eighth-grade classmates to keep up with assignments and make sure she understood the lessons. The hard work paid off, and Plaxides made the honor roll every semester.

    Working Toward Future Goals

    Plaxides had always known she wanted to go to college.

    “But your chances in Kenya to get into college were limited,” explained Plaxides’s mother, Ann Kamau. “And even if you made it to college, in Kenya your job opportunities after college were extremely limited.”

    By high school, Plaxides had worked her way up to advanced, honors and AP college-level courses. Instead of taking four classes a semester, sometimes she took six classes and even took additional courses over the summer. She was determined not to let this new world of opportunity go to waste.

    “College prep here became much easier (than it was in Kenya),” she said. “I even took some online courses because what I wanted wasn’t offered at the school, like AP psychology, AP world history, and honors pre-calculus.”

    Her junior year, Plaxides took seven AP exams, earning college credit. This year, she took six more AP exams, earning additional college credit.

    Graduating senior Plaxides Njeri in a school boiler room

    Ready for the Ivy League

    When applying to colleges, Plaxides had her sights set high. She applied to 12 universities, including four Ivy League schools.

    Planning to major in engineering (possibly computer or mechanical engineering) and minoring in engineering business, Plaxides turned down offers to attend Carnegie Mellon, Duke, East Carolina, Georgia Tech, NC State and UNC-Chapel Hill. Instead she chose to attend Cornell, one of her Ivy League options.

    And she won’t have to wait long to get there! Plaxides is leaving mid-June to get a jump start on her college career, by participating in Cornell’s Pre-Freshman Summer Program for engineering students. As a Ryan Scholar, she’ll move in and start taking classes preparing her for Ivy League life and academic rigor.

    Plaxides says she’s also excited for her first winter in upstate New York.

    “Kenya was hot and didn’t have four seasons,” she said. “North Carolina hasn’t been that cold. I’m looking forward to winter in upstate New York and the snow!”

    Proud Mother

    Senior Plaxides Njeri and her mother, Ann Kamau

    Senior Plaxides Njeri (left) and her mother, Ann Kamau (right).

    Ann Kamau beams with pride watching her daughter wearing her graduation cap and gown, talking about her college and career plans. Like Plaxides, Ann is also starting a new college program this summer, working towards becoming a registered nurse.

    “I’m feeling great,” Ann said. “I know everyone has a story. Ours has been a challenge, but I know our family is going far. God has blessed the work of our hands.”

    Working to Give Back

    Plaxides says she wants to become an engineer so she can go back to Kenya and other developing areas to help them.

    “I want to connect those people who don’t have resources to people who can help them get things like water, clothing, food, healthcare and other basic necessities,” she said. “Sometimes, communities don’t just need food or water brought in. Maybe what they really need is a bridge to connect their village to other communities. I’d like to help them pinpoint where the problem is and help them solve it.”

    She credits her teachers, counselors and administrators, in addition to her friends and her mother with providing her the support she needed to succeed.

    “My friends think it’s great,” she said. “My friends are not just friends. We’re a group of people who encourage each other. We’re all graduating with hope for the future and gratitude for what Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School has done for us!”