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New nursing grad Emefa Arisiya radiates energy and enthusiasm for so many things … life in America, her hard-earned University of Wisconsin Oshkosh degree and a promising future caring for others.

On Saturday morning she walked across the commencement stage to receive her diploma at Kolf Sports Center. In the afternoon, she delivered inspiring words during the College of Nursing (CON) traditional pinning ceremony in Reeve Union.

“As an immigrant and class speaker for the nursing majors, I am profoundly honored to share my journey and the collective journey of so many who have traveled far and near to stand here today,” she said.

“Our journey was not just about crossing borders; it was about crossing boundaries that existed within us. We juggled language barriers, cultural differences and the weight of homesickness. Some of us worked tirelessly, often holding multiple jobs to support ourselves all while pursuing our dreams of becoming nurses.”

Arisiya grew up in poverty in Ghana. Her mother never went to school or learned to read, making Arisiya’s journey as a true first-generation college student even more remarkable.

Still, she earned an associate degree and worked as a midwife for more than six years in her homeland. Her love of school and desire to learn more led her to apply for a Diversity Immigrant Visa (also known as the green card lottery).

“I met the criteria, and I was selected,” she said. “I won the lottery.”

In 2018, Arisiya immigrated to America and worked for a year before applying for financial aid and choosing UW Oshkosh, an affordable university located near a family friend. Since her previous credits didn’t easily transfer, she started over with the nursing curriculum.

During her time at UWO, Arisiya made use of many available resources, such as the math and writing labs, advising, the Multicultural Education Center and the Dean of Students Office. She also got involved with Titan Takeoff and was active in the Oshkosh Student Nurses Association.

“And believe me, the library was my home,” she said. “If I was not working or in class, I was at the library. I would eat and sleep there. I was so determined to make it. I didn’t want to disappoint my mother. I owe her and I want to make her proud.”

Arisiya’s efforts did not go unnoticed on campus as she earned scholarships and accolades from faculty and staff.

CON lab manager Jeanne Hiatt said Arisiya is “full of grit and resilience as she has made her way in a completely new country, finding a place to live and the resources to support herself as she completed the rigorous College of Nursing program.”

McNair Scholars director Cordelia Bowlus also was impressed.

“She has a personality that will light up a room and a compelling life story,” Bowlus said. “Her enthusiasm for the UWO nursing program and its faculty and staff is incredible. She could be a UWO recruiter. She is going places!”

Next up, Arisiya will work as a registered nurse in an underserved area after she passes her RN licensure exam. Graduate school also could be on the horizon.

“I love school. I want to go higher,” she said.

At the pinning ceremony, Arisiya encouraged her classmates to go higher as well:

“Let’s remember the sacrifices our families made, the opportunities this country has provided and the responsibility we have to pay it forward. Let’s be the voice for those who might struggle to speak, the advocate for those whose circumstances we can understand all too well … Let’s embrace the future with open hearts and open minds.”

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