This week, University of Kentucky graduates are busy preparing to walk across the Rupp Arena stage, shake President Eli Capilouto's hand and accept their long-awaited diploma. That piece of paper signifies the end of a journey — a journey of self-discovery.
Ndeye Matou Amar's journey to Commencement has been filled with overwhelming challenges and inspirational successes. On Dec. 20, she will boldly stand in front of the Class of 2019 — as the selected student speaker — and tell her story of resilience.
When Amar reflects on how far she's come in the last decade, she's overcome with emotion. Ten years ago, she left behind her life in Senegal, West Africa to start a new life in the "Land of Opportunity."
Amar quickly realized opportunities aren't simply attained through luck but through grace and grit.
Upon arriving in the United States, Amar found herself about to become a first-time mother in a new country where she didn't know the language and didn't have her family to rely on. "Adjusting to the new culture for someone who comes from a very collectivistic country — where women are expected to be obedient and follow the rules from the moment they are born to their very last breath — was very hard."
Refusing to let barriers define her, Amar immediately enrolled in English as a second language classes. “I had my baby on Friday, got out of the hospital on Sunday and on Monday I went to school to take my exam,” she said. “Nothing is impossible in this country — you just have to believe in it, and you will get it.”
Though Amar had faith in her ability to achieve success, she recalls many moments when it would have been easier to simply give up. But she wanted more — for herself and her family.
"So, I became more.”
Equipped with determination, Amar enrolled in courses at Bluegrass Community and Technical College. She would earn more than 50 credit hours before taking a step back to focus on raising her two young boys.
In 2016, Amar realized she didn't have to choose between being a dedicated mother and furthering her education. “I told myself, I needed to go back to school," she said. "I feel like I have so much potential."
From the moment Amar stepped on UK's campus, she knew she had found the university that would ignite her passions. "I had a sense of hope and determination. I felt that this place — this community — would challenge, support and prepare me to excel on the biggest stages of my life, and I wasn't wrong."
Throughout her time at UK, Amar discovered her purpose. Hoping to transform the lives of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), she began pursuing a psychology degree in the College of Arts and Sciences.
"By working in the lab with Professor Elizabeth Lorch, I have learned so many ways to change lives," she explained. "I've helped children develop better reading and comprehension skills."
Amar's compassionate ways extend beyond her coursework. This past summer, she participated in an Education Abroad program in South Africa. Amar earned credit hours while also interning with the University of Western Cape Town Mayibuye Archives — a public entity responsible for managing, maintaining, presenting, developing and marketing Robben Island as a national estate and a world heritage site.
After her experience abroad, Amar applied and was selected to be an Education Abroad Peer Ambassador (EAPA). In that role, she helped inform fellow students about the various opportunities Education Abroad has to offer.
“If you go abroad and you have that experience, as a good person or a good student you would want your peers to experience the same thing," Amar explained. "That's what motivated me to become an EAPA."
There's no question — Amar has continued to push herself and excel. But where will her journey take her next?
Amar hasn’t decided what comes after crossing the Rupp Arena stage. But the possibilities are endless. She already has several job interviews lined up and has also been accepted into the WilDCats at the Capitol program.
No matter what her future holds, Amar is proud to call herself a UK graduate. "That girl who came here 10 years ago, is now a trilingual, mother of two beautiful boys and is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology."
As Nelson Mandela once famously said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."
Education has certainly changed Amar's world. Now, she plans to use it to bring about positive change for others.
"This is a dream come true for me. I’m grateful to be a UK student."