Obama's shout out for semester abroad student

16 May 2016 | Story by Newsroom
Ciearra Jefferson is overwhelmed by President Obama's attention at her graduation ceremony, as captured on camera by CNN.
Ciearra Jefferson is overwhelmed by President Obama's attention at her graduation ceremony, as captured on camera by CNN.

Ciearra Jefferson was as surprised as everyone else around her when US president Barrack Obama named her as an example to others during his commencement address at Howard University in Washington DC.

Jefferson spent a semester abroad at UCT in the first half of 2015 during which she conducted a self-assigned research project into the healthcare barriers for patients co-infected with HIV and tuberculosis. While here, she also followed courses in religious studies, English language and literature, and African dance.

She is the first member of her family to graduate and is the daughter of a single mother, Yolandria Shelton, who worked on an assembly line in Detroit.

Close to the end of his 45-minute speech at the graduation ceremony, Obama surprised Jefferson and her family, when he said: “I've learned about some of the young people graduating here today. There's a young woman named Ciearra Jefferson, who's graduating with you. And I'm just going to use her as an example. I hope you don't mind, Ciearra. 

“Ciearra grew up in Detroit and was raised by a poor single mom who worked seven days a week in an auto plant. And for a time, her family found themselves without a place to call home. They bounced around between friends and family who might take them in. By her senior year, Ciearra was up at 5 am every day, juggling homework, extracurricular activities, volunteering, all while taking care of her little sister.

“But she knew that education was her ticket to a better life. So she never gave up. Pushed herself to excel. This daughter of a single mom who works on the assembly line turned down a full scholarship to Harvard to come to Howard.

“And today, like many of you, Ciearra is the first in her family to graduate from college. And then, she says, she's going to go back to her hometown, just like Thurgood Marshall did, to make sure all the working folks she grew up with have access to the healthcare they need and deserve. As she puts it, she's going to be a 'change agent'. She's going to reach back and help folks like her succeed.

“And people like Ciearra are why I remain optimistic about America. Young people like you are why I never give in to despair.”

Watch Obama's tribute and the mother/daughter interview on CNN

Photo CNN.

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