GOSHEN -- Ramadhan Audy has come a long way for a Goshen College diploma. All the way from the streets of Nairobi, Kenya, to be exact.
Audy, 29, will graduate from Goshen College on Sunday with a degree in biochemistry and a theater minor. The workload for such an education sounds daunting, though it's nothing compared to what Audy went through to make it this far.
But Audy has met each challenge with enthusiasm and a determination to persevere.
Audy was born in Nairobi and was raised by his paternal aunt and uncle. He had an early desire to go to school, but his aunt and uncle had little interest in fostering their nephew's education, so he didn't go as regularly as his cousins. As he got older, he was beaten and forced to go without food.
At age 12, Audy ran away and spent the next two years as a street boy, dependent on strangers for food. When he was 14, he met a woman who asked why he was living on the street. After hearing his story, she took him to a rehabilitation center for street children.
While on the street many children become addicted to drugs. Audy said he stayed away from drugs, but he was a part of a gang.
"If you're on the streets you have to be part of a gang," he said. "It has to be there. Because if you're not part of any given gang, then you're not considered ... you'll be getting beatings and those kinds of things. You'll be tortured by other children in the streets."
The rehab center got Audy back into school. Not long after he arrived, an Indian woman named Vasha Shah came looking for a boy to sponsor. Her contributions let Audy resume his studies, and he developed a fondness for physics and math.
After four years Audy lost his sponsor. He began looking for another shelter but had to look covertly. If the rehab's administration found out he was looking for another place to stay he risked winding up back on the streets.
Eventually he found an orphanage run by a woman named Fauzia Muthoni Hassan, or Mama Fauzia, as Audy affectionately calls her. Hassan has shown Audy what a parent's love looks like.
She found a way to get Audy and other kids at the orphanage to school without sponsors. She also instilled in the kids a necessary sense of self-reliance. She would be there to help the children find a way to make financial ends meet, but they were also expected to find solutions to everyday stumbling blocks.
Shortly before graduating high school in 2002, Audy was offered the chance to come to the United States for college. Dr. Jean Turkish, a Michigan pediatrician who knew Hassan, was looking to sponsor two to three kids from Kenya to come to the U.S. to continue their education.
The application process to get to the U.S. was arduous. Audy had to apply for a passport and visa and take college preparatory classes that included the SAT. While other children at the orphanage eventually abandoned the goal, Audy took Hassan's lessons in persistence to heart. He came to Goshen College in 2004.
Audy still had uphill battles ahead of him. His new sponsor had a stroke in 2006 and was no longer able to financially support him. With the number of hours he could work in a week restricted at 20, Audy felt new pressure to make the most of his time.
But it was pressure he knew he could handle. He just reminded himself: "I am here. I'm a human being. I can do something."
Audy hopes to go to nursing school and graduate school to study public health. Ultimately, he hopes for a career serving people as a part of the health care system. Experience has shown him that the road ahead may not always be smooth. But he's excited and enthusiastic when he thinks of what the future holds.
"Because I belong to the world, I can survive anywhere," he said.
GOSHEN COLLEGE GRADUATION
* Commencement will be at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Roman Gingerich Recreation-Fitness Center.
* No tickets are necessary to attend the ceremony. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis, with doors opening at 2:15 p.m.
* Guests can park in lots next to the rec-fitness center, music center or College Mennonite Church, as well as other areas designated for visitor parking.