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Armstrong H.S. Senior Overcomes Obstacles To Succeed

African immigrant Otis Gaye was recently named Homecoming King and plans to attend college.

Talking to Otis Gaye, you would never know the struggles and obstacles he has faced. A senior at Armstrong High School this year, Gaye has taken charge of his future and plans to attend college next year. He was also recently named Homecoming King.

Gaye emigrated from Africa with his family in December 2003. He said it wasn’t a good situation at the refugee camp where they lived in Ghana.

“My parents wanted us to have a better life,” said Gaye. “With the world changing, they wanted us to be educated to prepare us for the future.”

He said his family travelled from Africa to Germany where they stayed for a short period of time. They eventually settled in Philadelphia. When he was in sixth grade, his parents sent him to live with his older brother in Minnesota.

“Philadelphia wasn’t the best place to grow up,” said Gaye. “My parents decided that it would be best to send me to Minnesota to live with my brother to get a better education.”

Gaye hasn’t seen his parents in two years, but said he hopes to visit them in Philadelphia over winter break. He said he talks to his mom about once every two weeks.

Gaye attended different schools in Minnesota for each seventh grade, eighth grade and ninth grade. Now living with another brother in Plymouth, he came to Armstrong in his sophomore year. His brother works two jobs and Gaye only sees him about twice each week.

Last year when he was struggling in his Chemistry class, his teacher suggested he get involved with the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program at Armstrong. He was interviewed and was selected to take part in the program. AVID is a districtwide college-prep and support program to prepare students for college eligibility and success that was started in the 2006-2007 school year.

“We have 120 kids in the AVID program this year,” said Kate Fuller, AVID Teacher/Coordinator. “The kids are awesome.”

Gaye said he didn’t think college was an option for him. He said none of his siblings (he has 13 brothers and two sisters) or his parents has gone to college, but he added that his 22-year-old brother just started college in South Dakota.

“AVID has been a breakthrough in my high school career,” said Gaye. “It showed me a whole different side of school and how college is.”

Gaye has gone with the AVID program on field trips to North Dakota State University and Concordia College. He’ll take the ACT test on October 27.

“I’m trying to put myself on the right track for college, but I want to stay close to home in Minnesota,” said Gaye.

He used to think he’d like to be an engineer, but now he’d like to be a History teacher. His third grade teacher, Ms. Brown, in Philadelphia had a big impact on him.

“She’s probably the most inspirational person in my life ever,” said Gaye. “When I moved here from Ghana, I would get teased because I didn’t sound or look like everyone else.”

Gaye said Ms. Brown talked to him about staying positive and encouraged him to keep working hard. After he wrote a paper about her in fourth grade, which won third place in a contest, he tried to visit her at his previous school, but she had moved to Atlanta.

In addition to focusing on school, Gaye said he likes to play sports, including football, basketball and soccer. He also likes to dance. Gaye has been working at a Subway for about a year, but right now he’s only able to work a four-hour shift on Sundays.

“I started playing football in seventh grade,” said Gaye. “This year I’m a captain of the team and I play defensive back, corner and safety.”

When asked about the upcoming Homecoming football game against Elk River on Friday night, Gaye said, “I’m expecting a very good game, it’s not going to be easy but we should come out with a win.”

In response to a question about Elk River’s standings, he said “I don’t worry about their record.”

Gaye said he was very surprised to be crowned Homecoming king, but he was happy and he had fun despite being the center of attention. He attended the Homecoming dance last weekend and at halftime during Friday’s game, he’ll ride on a fire truck with the Homecoming queen.

It’s been quite a journey for this always-smiling senior with a bright future ahead.

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