Receiving a college acceptance letter is an accomplishment many high school students work hard to achieve. It’s something that required extra work for St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute senior Jean Jacques Sibomanna. Less than six years ago, Sibomanna could not read, write or speak English after coming to the United States from Africa. Now, he is preparing to enter Brown University.
It’s the next step in the 17-year old Ivy Leaguer’s journey, which has taken him from his native Rwanda to Zaire to Africa’s Ivory Coast before settling in Buffalo, New York in 2004.
Sibomanna was born in Byumba, Rwanda shortly after the genocide that left 800,000 Rwandans dead. His family soon relocated to Zaire where they lived for three years before moving to Africa’s Ivory Coast when Sibomanna’s father took a job as a veterinarian. Then, Catholic Charities provided the family the chance to move to the U.S.
Once in Buffalo with his parents and two siblings, Sibomanna was accepted at Buffalo Prep, a program that helps bright, economically-disadvantaged minority students prepare for and excel in demanding high schools. Although Sibomanna, who speaks French and Rwandan, did not know English, the preparatory school accepted him.
“When Jean Jacques applied for the program, his essays were virtually unreadable due to his lack of command of the English language,” said Mr. David Kash, the director of counseling services at St. Joe’s who has volunteered at Buffalo Prep since 1989. “Yet there was a work ethic and an intrinsic will to succeed that was readily apparent in him and that was enough to convince the admissions committee to give Jean Jacques a shot.”
Sibomanna worked diligently to improve his English skills, including watching television to learn the American dialect. Within a few years, his knowledge of the language was strong enough to get into St. Joe’s.
When he started at the school in 2007, Sibomanna immersed himself in extracurricular activities. He played football, ran cross country and joined the French, Chess and Computer Clubs. He was elected into the National Honor Society as an 11th grader and became group treasurer his senior year. Sibomanna is also a senior representative on Student Council.
St. Joe’s President/Principal Robert T. Scott, AFSC, said it was clear from Sibomanna’s freshman year that he wanted to take advantage of everything St. Joe’s offered. “Drawing upon his prior experiences, he had a firsthand knowledge of just how important it is to capitalize on those opportunities when they are presented, and he has done so at St. Joe’s with outstanding results,” said Scott.
Sibomanna carries a 94.91 percent average and earned credits in four Advancement Placement courses. Despite his accomplishments, J.J.-as he’s known-praises his classmates as well. Some of them were accepted into colleges like Princeton, Harvard, Georgetown and Cornell.
“I never felt like the environment at St. Joe’s was overly competitive in a negative sense; in fact I think that ‘cooperative’ would be a better way to explain it,” he explained. “Every student at St. Joe’s is challenging himself to do great things, get into great colleges, and I found that when I was struggling, my classmates – and teachers – were more than willing to take the time to help me. For that, I’ll always be grateful.”
Sibomanna plans to study engineering at Brown, which he selected over Syracuse University, Carnegie-Mellon University, the University of Delaware and several others.