Chaminade-Julienne senior’s work ethic an example for others
By David Eck
DAYTON DEANERY — When Romeo Kwihangana entered Chaminade-Julienne High School in the fall of 2006 he had been in the United States for only a few months and had difficulty speaking English.
“It was kind of hard to make new friends. The Chaminade-Julienne community welcomed me,” said Kwihangana, 19. “The only barrier between me and them was the language barrier, but that was quickly resolved.”
A Rwandan refugee, Kwihangana, his mother, two sisters and a brother fled to Kenya for three years when Kwihangana was three. The family then lived in Niger for nine years before moving to Dayton to be near an uncle. The move was hard for Kwihangana, who recalls crying as first grader. Still, Kwihangana attended a Catholic grade school in Niger, which helped him with the transition to Chaminade-Julienne.
“If I had gone to a public school, I wouldn’t be as prepared as I was when I came here,” he said. “The public system in Niger has a lot of disturbances. Most of the students never have a full year’s worth of education.”
With a 3.8 grade point average at Chaminade-Julienne, Kwihangana will attend Notre Dame University on a full scholarship. He plans to study engineering.
Education is important to his family, Kwihangana said, and he studies hard.
“I try to do my best but I fall sometimes here and there,” he said. “My sister’s the one who forced me to apply [to Notre Dame] because I didn’t think I’d be able to make it.”
One of his sisters has a master’s degree from the University of Dayton, another sister is working on a doctorate at the University of Louisville and his brother is attending Wright State University.
At Chaminade-Julienne Kwihangana helped organize fundraising efforts for the Congo as a service project. He also helped create a mural that chronicles the life of Sister of Notre Dame de Namur Dorothy Stang.
Kwihangana’s contribution to the mural includes the Beatitudes and an illustration of a hand holding the world.
“What I wanted to signify was that people appreciate creation and appreciate what (Sister) Dorothy Stang did to protect it,” he said.
Charlene Wheeler, director of guidance at Chaminade-Julienne, met Kwihangana when he started at the school and was his guidance counselor this past year.
“He’s an excellent student, but first and foremost he’s a wonderful person,” Wheeler said. “The staff, faculty and student body alike appreciate Romeo for his efforts.”
Though he was shy when he first came to the school, Kwihangana was looking forward to and ready to embrace his Catholic education, Wheeler said. He’s also active in the school’s ministry program, leading retreats for peers and underclassman.
His experiences and commitment can inspire other students.
“I think that global perspective is appreciated by his peers,” Wheeler said. “His family worked very hard for what they have. I think that’s a good example for all of our students.”
Fleeing his homeland because of war and moving to different parts of the world has made Kwihangana stronger and more tolerant.
“For some reason I kind of see everything differently than most people do. I’ve learned to appreciate the little things here and there,” he said. “I try to understand people first before I make a judgment or predictions about them.”