Nneoma Nwankwo hasn’t received her American driver’s license yet. Instead, at 16, she spent her gap year helping her mom plan a gender policy dialogue with the World Bank, working at her uncle’s advertising firm, and sitting in on her mom’s Oxfam meetings in Nasarawa and in Jos, Nigeria — both far northeast of her hometown of Lagos, Nigeria.
By 2012, she was, unsurprisingly, accepted to Virginia Tech.
Nwankwo graduated in May 2016 from Virginia Tech with Honors and a degree in political science along with minors in creative writing and public and urban affairs. In four years, Nwankwo accomplished so much she was recognized as the Undergraduate Student of the Year, the most prestigious honor awarded to one graduating senior each year.
And yet, as a freshman transplanted over a 15-hour plane ride away from home and just starting out in the fall of 2012, Nwankwo wasn’t so sure she’d make it to a Lane Stadium graduation.
Her very first week of freshman year, she caught chicken pox.
“I was like, ‘okay, you know what, if I have to get chicken pox my first week here, it’s a clear indication that I’m not supposed to be here, and I don’t like to disobey God, so I’m ready to leave,” Nwankwo said. She talks with a slight and seemingly unplaceable accent, no doubt influenced by the five languages she’s conversant in: English, Igbo, French, Yoruba, and Nigerian Pidgin.