Beraca Luboya will be attending Gonzaga University in the fall to study mechanical engineering. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Beraca Luboya will be attending Gonzaga University in the fall to study mechanical engineering. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Aspiring engineer learns to thrive in new culture

In befriending others, Cascade’s Beraca Luboya, a native of Africa, became confident in herself.

This is one of a series of profiles of exceptional high school graduates from Snohomish County. They are among the thousands of students graduating this spring, each with their own story of academic achievement, creativity, leadership and determination.

Beraca Luboya boasts an impressive high school resume.

ASB vice president, varsity basketball player, frequent enrollee in AP classes and a future Gonzaga University student with mechanical engineering aspirations. She was one of four local students to receive a Anthony G. Bozich Memorial Scholarship worth $22,500 from the Everett Rotary Club last month.

But school hasn’t always come easy to the Cascade High School senior.

Luboya and her family immigrated to the United States from the Democratic Republic of Congo, seeking asylum after her mother’s government job became unsafe.

In her first year of schooling in the U.S., Luboya felt like an outcast. Speaking no English and seeing few students who looked like her, she felt isolated from her peers.

“Everyone was just in awe, because I was the only kid from Africa,” Luboya said. “It was hard, but at that time I didn’t really understand what they were saying. All I knew was that they were pointing at me. My only identity was ‘that kid from Africa.’”

Luboya, already fluent in French and Lingala, spent a year in English language learner courses frustrated with her inability to speak English. She decided to take matters into her own hands, spending the summer learning as much as she could and graduating from the program a year later.

Once she reached high school, Luboya knew how it felt to be an outsider and didn’t want others to feel the same.

“Whenever you see Beraca, no matter how your day is going, she’s going to have a smile or a joke or some sort of personal insight that is going to make you have a better day,” said Mike Cane, an English teacher and one of Luboya’s basketball coaches.

Luboya’s efforts to reach out were noticed.

So much so, that during her junior year Cascade principal Cathy Woods approached Luboya about running for ASB. With the backing of friends, she entered the race for vice president and won.

Once just “that kid from Africa,” Luboya was now being approached by students in the hall enthusiastically proclaiming “Beraca, I voted for you!”

“I didn’t know small acts impacted people that big,” Luboya said.

During her ASB tenure, Luboya is most proud of hosting Cascade’s first cultural night, where students featured special aspects from their cultures.

“It was really touching to see how the students wanted people to see who they are,” Luboya said. “That day we just celebrated our school and that was the best event we’ve held ever.”

The showcase of culture was meaningful to Luboya who spent years attempting to erase her reputation as the kid from Africa before embracing the qualities that make her unique.

“When going into sixth grade I was trying to forget my culture and trying to be more Americanized, because I thought that was the only way to succeed,” Luboya said. “But high school here at Cascade has taught me to embrace my culture and that I don’t have to forget myself to succeed, I don’t have to leave a part of me to become someone new. I can still be who I am.”

Ian Davis-Leonard: 425-339-3449; idavisleonard@heraldnet.com. Twitter: IanDavisLeonard.

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