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Kofi’s dream comes true
Augustana awards Ghana exchange student scholarship
By By Jill Meier
Challenger editor

May 02. 2013 9:17AM
Cyril Gunee or “Kofi,” as he’s adoringly referred to at Brandon Valley High School, has a deep passion for learning.

So much so the Ghana-born exchange student rises between 4 and 5 a.m. to perfect his school assignments. And it’s that commitment that has afforded the 16-year-old Kofi the opportunity to extend his U.S. educational experience to the next level: Augustana College.

“He has done everything he can to get an education,” said high school science teacher Justin Lovrien. “He left home, worked long days and applied to many schools and scholarships.”

Because of his success in the classroom, Augustana has offered the international student one of its largest scholarships – a $28,000 Trustees Honor Scholarship per year over the next four years. But Kofi is in need of an additional $10,000 per year, and it’s unlikely it will come from his family. His father, a librarian, supports the family on a $1,000 annual salary.

So that’s where a group of Brandon Valley staff and students are stepping in. They’re organizing a graduation party for Kofi. It’s planned from 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday at United Celebration Church in Brandon. Lyle and Sharil Rollag have donated two hogs that will be roasted in Hawaiian luau-style. A silent auction, Jello salad contest and other games are also among the party plans. The Jello salad contest is simply to educate Kofi on this Midwest tradition, Lovrien jokes.

“This is one of the most wonderful things that would ever happen to me,” Kofi says of the scholarship and party.

But because Kofi isn’t eligible to have a job in the U.S. or apply for forms of aid and/or loans, the party planners are asking for the community’s help.

“He needs members of the community to come out and give to the freewill offering, have a wonderful time and help send him to college. He’s a bright, hard-working kid and can go to college if we get involved,” Lovrien said.

Although the teaching staff at Brandon Valley High School has known Kofi for less than a year, they have high praise for the young man.

“Kofi is an astonishingly intellectual young man. Though he isn’t even in my class, he wrote a short story about unjust child labor in Africa and reworked it with me over and over again,” said English teacher Matt Christensen. “Augustana will be fortunate to get him and we’re all fortunate to have known him here in Brandon.”

Adds history teacher Jeremy Risty, “Kofi is an oustanding young man. Even though English is his second language, he is an extremely gifted and confident speaker with a vocabulary that exceeds most of his peers. He is very dedicated to his education and was voted by his peers in my eighth period government class as their candidate for the school-wide student mock presidential election.”

Risty said Kofi continually seeks knowledge by asking insightful questions or offering equally impressive responses to queries. “His enthusiasm, energy and friendliness endear him to his peers, and I honestly haven’t met anyone who has said even one negative thing about him.”

Kofi, who would be in is senior year in Ghana, said he began thinking about being an exchange student as a freshman. “I wanted to see what the world has to offer,” he says.

During his year at Brandon Valley, Kofi took the ACT and recently, was granted his GED, in which he had a perfect score in all categories but writing.

“I wouldn’t say the same for the ACT,” said Kofi, who had a 29 composite score out of a possible 36.

Kofi’s class load at Brandon Valley certainly hasn’t a light one. He’s taking AP chemistry, AP biology, American government and trigonometry, all classes he’s excited to explore. In Ghana, students focus on one subject, whether that be science, art, business, etc. He studied biology in his three years of high school there.

“I come from an educational system that pushes you to your limits,” he said.

And because his dad is a librarian, Kofi spent many hours there after school reading.
At Brandon Valley, Kofi has competed on the club soccer team, was involved in the one-act plays and the spring musical. He also attended his first high school prom
“I felt that all of those activities helped me to meet people, especially soccer since I had just arrived,” he said. “It helped in my transition coming here.”

Lovrien was one of the driving forces in his transition to college.

“He’s one of the people I approached about this dream I have to apply and go to college here,” Kofi said.
It would be Lovrien who introduced him to the opportunity at Augustana College.

Kofi plans to enroll as an economics major and minor in international affairs.

“I’m interested in teaching, most probably at the college level,” he said. “Because when I think about my major, I think of where I could help.”

Kofi’s year as an exchange student at Brandon Valley officially comes to a close June 28, which is his 17th birthday. He’ll return to Ghana for a few months before returning to the U.S. for classes this fall at Augustana.

Kofi, who’s hosted by the Brian and Penny Bennett family, said he’s strived to make the best of his time here. “Every day here has been a great experience,” he said. “This hasn’t been a year in my life, it’s been my life in a year.”

Kofi, Brandon Valley's exchange student from Ghana, has been awarded a significant international four-year scholarship to attend Augustana College next fall. A graduation party has been planned in his honor from 6 to 8 p.m. at Celebration United Methodist Chuch in Brandon. Photo by Jill Meier

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