New CPS grad Yonas Gebregziabher aims to be ‘the doctor that many Ethiopians wish they had’ (Chicago Sun-Times)

Yonas Gebregziabher, who graduated Thursday from Amundsen High School in Chicago, has a full-ride scholarship to a top school — Bowdoin College in Maine. (Chicago Sun-Times)

Chicago Sun-Times

When Yonas Gebregziabher moved from Ethiopia to the United States in 2014, the only English he knew was his name.

Now, he has graduated at the top of his class from Amundsen High School on the North Side, will be attending college on a full scholarship and has his sights set on being a doctor.

When he and his mom Axumawit Gebregziabher arrived in Illinois, Yonas was in seventh grade. They moved here because she thought the United States would offer him more educational opportunities.

But adjusting wasn’t easy when he started out at Horace Greeley Elementary.

“I just felt lost at all times,” Yonas says, “because I couldn’t communicate effectively to even understand what was being taught. I was also frustrated because I had to redo assignments plenty of times until I got it correctly.”

To get past the language barrier, he supplemented his school work with Khan Academy language courses. He also watch movies like “Shrek” and “The Lion King” to help learn how to pronounce words.

For practice, he’d have conversations in English with his cousin and schoomate Hayelom.

At Amundsen, 5110 N. Damen Ave., Yonas, who graduated Thursday, immersed himself in American culture through his classes, sports and other activities.

Starting freshman year, he was part of the school’s challenging international baccalaureate program, which aims to prepare top students for college. He was awarded a scholarship through the national QuestBridge Scholars program for top students from low-income backgrounds that will allow him to attend Bowdoin College in Maine in the fall.

Outside of class, he ran on the school track team, which he says helped him experience being part of a community.

He stayed connected to his Ethiopian roots by volunteering for two Ethiopian nonprofit agencies: the Axum Alumni Association and the Chicago Tigrian Mutual Association. He helped both build websites and plan events.

“I owe Ethiopia a lot for the kind of person that I am,” he says. “It’s only right that I gave back to what they gave to me.”

Marinda Kennedy, Yonas’ track coach and school counselor, attributes his achievements to his “laser-like focus.”

“The thing about Yonas is, when he gets something in his head that he wants to do, he is very persistent,” Kennedy says. “That’s how he is about his goals. He’s a go-getter, and he blew me away with his ability to make a way.”

Yonas credits his family for his achievements and for inspiring him to go to medical school.

“In Ethiopia, direct access to health care, at least of quality, is hard to come across,” he says. “Since I’ve seen my own family struggle with health care, I want to become the doctor that many Ethiopians wish they had.”


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