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Alemtsehay Getahun arrived in New York City from Ethiopia during the 6th grade. Neither she nor her siblings spoke a word of English, and they faced numerous obstacles while acclimating to a new language and culture.

Alemtsehay’s whole family enrolled in extra English classes and read books constantly, working day and night to adjust to their new life. Alemtsehay also watched the Disney Channel regularly, trying to pick up new idioms and phrases and improve her pronunciation. Because she was very good at Math, she kept advancing with her grade level in school, and in the middle of 7th grade, after over a year of intense study and practice, she tested at her grade level in English, her first of many victories.

As she got ready to apply to high school, Alemtsehay was accepted into a program with SSP (Student Sponsor Partners), an organization that partners with promising students and their families to place them in excellent local schools and help fund their high school education. As an SSP student, Alemtsehay came to St. Joseph High School, looking forward to the close-knit Catholic community and the challenging academics.

From Adversity to Excellence

This past year, as a Junior, Alemtsehay completed two internships, one at Breakfast with Alice, a creative brand marketing consultancy, and the other through Futures and Options, a non-profit that pairs underserved youth with local businesses in order to help them explore career possibilities, grow in work-readiness, and gain access to the economic mainstream.

During the school year, attending school every day and then going to her internship four afternoons a week, Alemtsehay quickly began to learn time management and prioritization. She grew in her communication skills once again, this time drafting professional emails to sponsors and clients, updating websites and social media accounts, and most importantly sharing her accomplishments and goals each week at the company meetings. These meetings were challenging and intimidating at first, but over time Alemtsehay gained the confidence to share her ideas and speak her mind.

What’s next for Alemtsehay?

Internships were not the only major achievement of her Junior year. Alemtsehay was also nominated through SSP to apply for the Peter M. Flanigan scholarship, which awards students $40,000 over 4 years toward their college education. Students are nominated based on grades and test scores and the application involves a lengthy personal essay and an interview by a panel of five SSP representatives. Alemtsehay shared the story of her personal journey from her childhood in Ethiopia to her teen years in New York City, and her hard work, perseverance and academic excellence deeply impressed the panel. She was awarded the scholarship – the first time ever that a student from SJHS has received this honor.

While Alemtsehay’s love for math has remained, and she is considering studying Engineering in future, she is now also an avid reader and writer, and her favorite subject at SJHS is English. When it comes to college, Alemtsehay is open to what the future brings and where her many interests guide her.