Becoming Me

We are interested in learning more about you and the context in which you have grown up, formed your aspirations and accomplished you academic successes. Please describe the factors and challenged that have most shaped your personal life and aspirations. How have these factors caused you to grow?


“Gue… Gue…Gueb…be,” my new teacher stumbled over the pronunciation of my last name. I smirked under my breath but decided to put her out of her misery by raising my hand and declaring my presence. “It’s Guebediang but I go by Maeva.” With a name like Sandra Maeva Makendi Guebediang I never stood a chance of being just another inconspicuous student in the mass of first day roll calls. If my name did not already brand me as different, then my deep, foreign accent surely did the trick.

I never realized that I was different with my hair cut short and multi-patterned clothes until I started middle school in the US. My new classmates pointed and snickered when the teacher tripped and stumbled over my name. In the hallway they whispered and mumbled while staring at me like an animal in the zoo, as if all those National Geographic magazines they briefly glanced at on their father’s desks had suddenly materialized and was now walking amongst them. The nice students would ask me if I lived in a hut and walked around naked, while the mean ones screamed, “African Booty Scratcher,” as I walked down the hallway, shoulders hunched.

After months of being exhibited and paraded, I decided that I no longer wanted to be known as the African girl,...

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