Extraordinary Teen Awards 2019

Prepare to be humbled. From a tech entrepreneur with patents pending to a 'Voice' contestant, these local students are on a path to greatness.

Photo by Erick Gibson

Rozina Nigussie

Washington-Lee High School

It’s hard to believe it was only two and a half years ago that Rozina Nigussie moved to Virginia from her native Ethiopia. She assimilated at lightning speed, juggling school assignments while working as a cashier at Giant and volunteering with the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, where she assists with outreach and translating Amharic. She also volunteers with the Hospital Elder Life Program at Inova Alexandria Hospital. “We help out with range-of-motion exercises, sometimes feed [and] talk to [patients] if they’re alone, with activities like puzzles,” says the 19-year-old. Some patients like to talk about their grandchildren and former careers. “It gives me a feeling of reward because I see them smile. I always learn something from them when I visit.”

Nigussie hopes to one day apply that experience to a career as a pulmonologist, having lost her mother to a lung illness in Ethiopia shortly before she moved stateside to live with her father. “It was the most heartbreaking time of my life. I still miss her so much,” says the teen, who this fall heads to Virginia Commonwealth University, with eventual plans to go to medical school and study diseases that don’t yet have a cure.

Many would crumble under the stress of losing a parent and moving overseas, but Nigussie persevered. She was named “Outstanding Youth” at last year’s Virginia Governor’s Housing Conference and graduated with a 3.83 GPA, all the while improving her language skills and striving to fit into her new—and very different—life.

Her mother’s words still echo in her mind when she mentions another hero of hers, Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai.

“In Ethiopia, in rural areas, sometimes it’s hard for girls to get educated,” she says. “My mom used to say teaching a girl is like teaching a nation. That really adds up.” –Rina Rapuano


Categories: People