They left him in Zimbabwe, their war-torn homeland, to come to the West where they hoped to establish a better life for themselves and, especially, for him.
It was heartbreaking for them to leave him -- he stayed behind in a rural village with his grandmother -- but they hoped the short-term sacrifice would one-day make for a brighter future.
What they couldn't know when they left was that they wouldn’t live together with their son for 16 years. First, they earned academic degrees and established their careers. Then, they became American citizens. And then they had to negotiate the labyrinth laws of U.S. immigration in order to bring David to America. It took much longer than they expected. But with assistance from U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, they finally brought him here.
David was nearly 17 when he arrived, having just finished high school in Zimbabwe. The family lived in northern New Jersey, and David eventually enrolled in the Newark College of Engineering (NCE) at NJIT.
Now, four years later, David is 21 and his future couldn’t be brighter. He was named NCE’s Outstanding Chemical Engineering student, one of the college’s highest honors. He was recognized during NCE’s recent Salute to Engineering Excellence.
And his parents couldn't be happier.
“When David told my husband and me that he was named top student, our jaws dropped,” said Lydia Nare, David’s mother. “His academic success makes us feel that all our sacrifices have paid off.”
During his days at NJIT, he has accumulated a host of awards, honors and scholarships. He attends the Albert Dorman Honors College at NJIT and has a grade point average of 3.85. He was president of Phi Eta Sigma, the national honor society, and a member of its national executive committee.
He was also president of the American Institute of Chemical Engineer’s (AIChE) student chapter, and belongs to two other honors societies -- Tau Beta Pi National Honor Society and Omega Chi Epsilon. He also interned at two major companies -- ExxonMobil and Merck. During his internship at Merck, he helped develop a bacterial vaccine, while at ExxonMobil he built optimal refinery modules. At NJIT, he researched the thermo-chemical properties of sulfur-containing molecules.
Before he achieved all this, though, David had to get to know a new country -- and a new family. Back in Zimbabwe, he lived with his grandmother in a remote village in the Eastern Highlands. There was no electricity, and they grew the food they ate. “As long as the rains were good, we lived well,” recalled David. “We didn’t have much money, but we didn’t need much.” His parents wrote to him often and sent him books and money. But he saw them only intermittingly when they visited during vacations.
Therefore, when in America he reunited with his parents -- who now had another son and one on the way -- relations were tense. He was, in essence, a stranger to his own parents. Listen to him explain it in his own words:
“Picture a young man moving into a house and everything is supposed to be all smooth,” David recalled. “I didn't know life in America, I didn’t know my parents, and my brother, who was 12 at the time, was a mystery to me. I took a year off from school when I arrived and worked menial jobs. Because of a counting error, I was fired from my first job, and because I wasn't in school, I had no American friends. Life was tough.”
Over time, though, David developed close relationships with his father, Bakela, who is now a research scientist, and his mother, a nurse. And he came to accept their decision to leave Zimbabwe.
“While settling here might have been difficult," David said, "their decision rests well with me. After all, because you can’t relive your childhood, I don't know what I missed. I see a little of what I missed by watching my younger brother grow up here. But it's hard to compare childhoods. I matured at such a young age. And rather than being jealous of him, I'm happy for him. My parents always told me that for me to be successful I must achieve more than they did. And that’s what keeps me alive."
His parent’s journey to America was also a struggle.
When they left Zimbabwe, they first lived in Montreal, where his father earned a doctorate from McGill University. They next moved to Boston, where Bakela did post-doctoral research at Harvard. He later found a job as a biological researcher at Merck, in Rahway, and the couple moved to nearby Scotch Plains. That’s where David lived when he arrived in America.
After working that first year at CVS, Dunkin Donuts and for a local amusement park, David decided to enroll at NJIT. It was close to his parent's house; it was nationally recognized for its engineering programs; and David had excelled in math and science in high school. Looking back, he sees it was a wise decision.
“Upon my enrollment at NJIT, I hoped for academic excellence and significant personal and professional growth,” he said. “Four years later, I must say that my hopes have come true.”
In the fall, David expects to attend graduate school and pursue a doctorate in chemical engineering. He’s been accepted at some of top schools in the nation -- Georgia Tech, the University of Minnesota -- and he’s waiting to hear from MIT, Cal Tech and U.C. Berkeley.
David’s father, Bakela, is especially adamant about his son’s education. Bakela’s own father, David’s grandfather, didn’t go to college. He thus expected much from Bakela who, in turn, expects David to surpass his achievements.
“I always tell David,” Bakela continued, “you must aim for the sky. If you miss, that’s OK -- you’ll hit the treetops. But don't aim for the treetops. Aim for the sky.”
(by Robert Florida, University Web Services)