- Associated Press - Monday, May 23, 2016

SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) - Yves Engelmann’s first day at Wofford College was also the first time he’d been in South Carolina.

Originally from Rwanda, Engelmann said attending college in America was a dream he wasn’t sure he would ever see come true. But on Sunday, May 15, Engelmann, 24, realized that dream as he graduated from Wofford.

“Where I come from, we have schools but everyone knows America has the best schools. Everyone wants to learn English,” he said. “This is a ticket to a better life.”

Engelmann was born in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city. In 1994, some 800,000 Rwandans, mostly from the Tutsi minority, were killed during the country’s infamous genocide.

One of those killed was Mashyaka Tite, Engelmann’s father. Engelmann was only 2 years old at the time.

“It (the genocide) affected everyone in one way or another,” he said.

For years, Engelmann’s mother, Mukakabano Evelyne worked several jobs to help support him and his brothers, Banamwana Hoffman Prince and Cyubahiro Gullain. She was often away from home for weeks or months at a time.

In December 2010, when he was 18, Engelmann left Rwanda for a place that could be considered the polar opposite of his home - Maine.

During his senior year at a boarding school in Maine, he was a half-credit short in English of what he needed to graduate, he said. His guidance counselor told him he could either go to school for another year to earn the credits, or leave high school without a diploma.

Engelmann said other students with lesser English skills and fewer credits were given a pass, but he wasn’t. So, he decided to spend the extra year in high school to make sure he got his diploma.

After he graduated, Engelmann started applying to colleges. Finding little to no financial aid available at many schools, he applied to Wofford after one of his cousins, Natasha, a student at Converse College, recommended the school to him.

Once he was accepted, Engelmann shifted his focus to paying for school.

“How do I afford this school,” he said. “I’m glad I got in, but I’m broke.”

Financial aid came in the form of the college’s Bonner Scholars program. To his amazement, Engelmann learned his time at Wofford would be tuition-free.

“This is unreal. I don’t believe you,” he remembered thinking when he found out about his acceptance to the program.

Engelmann then called Ramon Galinanes, Bonner Scholars program coordinator at Wofford, to make sure what he was reading was right.

“I have a letter saying my tuition is covered, and I said, do you have the same letter?” he said. “Is this some kind of scam? Are you going to take part of my leg or my kidney?”

Engelmann was assured that no physical sacrifices would be required to attend Wofford.

Engelmann fulfilled the service requirement of the Bonner Scholars program by volunteering at an after-school program at Arcadia Elementary School.

He recently won the John Bruce Memorial Award, a Wofford honor given to the Bonner Scholar who shows the most in-depth commitment to the program and its goals.

At graduation, he was also awarded the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award.

“I think Yves is strength, courage, resilience and love personified, and I feel so blessed to know him,” said Jessalyn Story, the director of the Center for Community-Based Learning and Bonner Scholars programs at Wofford.

Graduation was a bittersweet day for the Wofford senior. Engelmann is leaving South Carolina for Phoenix, where he will become a software developer and financial analyst for C. Myers Corp.

“After four years, I feel a community here. I met so many friends here, so it kind of feels like resetting to zero,” he said. “Of course I can’t wait to go to Phoenix and start that adventure, but this place has been so good to me.”

Engelmann is well aware he is fortunate compared with many others in Rwanda. In a country where cars are a luxury that people work for years to have, the opportunities he has made for himself are rare.

Making sure he earned his high school diploma and working through college were ways to prove himself, he said.

Now, as his next adventure looms, Engelmann will use the same work ethic he displayed in school to make the best possible future for himself.

“When you come from Africa, some people think you’re stupid, think you’re poor, they want to feed you. I want to break those stereotypes,” he said. “I’m not some bushman walking around in America. Not all Africans are the U.N. poster child you see. I had my share of sorrow and sadness and a crappy life. Now, I’m just moving forward.”

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Information from: Herald-Journal, https://www.goupstate.com/

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