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(ArgusLeader, South Dakota) Former refugee aspires to career in medicine

Posted by: Biniam Tekle

Date: Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Feven Goitom didn't speak much English when she started at Whittier Middle School six years ago. 

Goitom, who was born in Eritrea, spent six years in a refugee camp in Ethiopia before coming to the United States at age 13.

Talking to her today, you'd never guess the bubbly Washington High School student was using her third language as she lists her extracurricular activities, including learning Hindi, her fourth language, on her own time.

"After the third one it gets easier," Goitom said with a laugh.

More: South Dakota teen with cancer gets OK to walk at graduation

Goitom's list of accomplishments stretches far beyond her linguistic abilities, though.

The 19-year-old will graduate Sunday with some early college credits, which she'll take with her to Regis University in Denver where she has a full-ride scholarship for the fall. 

She hopes to study biology and go on to medical school, a passion stemming from her time in Ethiopia. 

Goitom recalls a time when her aunt became seriously ill while in the refugee camp. A volunteer doctor was called while Goitom was in the hospital visiting her, and she was inspired by how the doctor helped her aunt. 

"The impact that he had in her life ... I can have that impact on people," Goitom said. 

Goitom's already had an impact on her peers at Washington. 

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She's active in volunteering, serves as the manager of the girl's basketball team, tutors students in multiple subjects (including English) and participates in the "Celebration of Cultures" student club. 

Academically, she's a National Honor Society member and took both Advanced Placement and dual-credit courses. 

"You see her as the face of so many different things," Principal Dan Conrad said. 

Goitom serves as an example, also, for other English language learner students at Washington.

"A lot of her leadership is by modeling the way and saying, 'I can do this,'" Conrad said. 

When she's not at school, Goitom is tutoring her parents and siblings in English and also making sure her youngest sister, who as born in the U.S., learns the family's cultural customs. 

As she prepares to leave high school, Goitom has nothing but good things to say about Washington and how welcomed she's been by students in the Sioux Falls community, a community she hopes to return to someday as a physician. 

"I love how people are open," she said. "They want to know us and be our friend." 

Follow education watchdog reporter Megan Raposa on Twitter @mlraposa and subscribe to The Highlighter, an education newsletter for parents.

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