Ten years ago Ejab Dema and her family moved to Minnesota from across the globe.
Now, as a Wayzata High School senior, Ejab wants to take on the world. The local teen not only strives to make a difference in her community, but aspires to helping others everywhere.
It is this passion and drive that was quite evident in her winning application for the 2012 TwinWest Legacy Scholarship. Ejab was chosen by the TwinWest Chamber of Commerce Foundation as this year's recipient of the $5,000 scholarship that will help in her financial aid to attend the University of Notre Dame next fall.
Ejab was surprised with the scholarship by TwinWest Chamber members, school staff, family and friends Wednesday morning at the school.
"I knew I wanted to go to college and I wanted to take as much of the burden off my mom as I could so when I heard about this scholarship I decided to apply," Ejab said. "I have three siblings including two who are also at the high school level."
Family, community and helping others is important to Ejab.
"Valuing family and community are huge in my culture and I respect that, honor that, wherever I am," Ejab said. "I've learned so much here, at Wayzata High School, and in this community, that I've combined both experiences into how I want to make things better on a larger scale."
Ejab, her mother, grandmother and three siblings come from Cameroon, Africa, and are part of the Bali tribe. This cultural perspective has been an important basis for Ejab to look at her future and how she wants to change the world.
"I believe you must accept the past in order to move forward and I have been taught to learn from where you have been to look to where you want to go," Ejab said. "In my scholarship application, I tried to be honest about my life, how things have gone, how it's affected me, how I'm doing this for my mom too and for all of those who believe in me."
Parents tell us how special we are, but when we hear it from someone else it drives you more, she said.
Ejab is looking at pre-med or pre-law, has political aspirations and smiles at the thought of being the first female president.
"I just need my voice to be heard," she said. "I want to listen to others and give people a voice."
Ejab's mother Val Dema knows that seeing her children succeed is not only satisfying, but honoring and humbling.
"She's seen my struggles and sees me push through that and I think she sees challenges just make us stronger," Val Dema said. "I don't want her to miss out on anything she wants to do. She sets a good example for her siblings."
Val Dema and her family immigrated to Minnesota in 1992. She only knew a few friends here she and has been raising her children with her mother who later moved in with the family.
TwinWest Chamber of Commerce President Bruce Nustad talked to the crowd gathered May 2 in the foyer of Wayzata High School. He mentioned what Ejab had written in her application and talked about the process for choosing scholarship winners.
"It takes about 20 minutes to review each application and with 208 applications that is a good chunk of time invested," Nustad said. "We then select 50 applicants to interview and one of those receives the Legacy scholarship while 46 others receive scholarships."
The winners are from schools in the west metro area. Each year TwinWest Chamber awards more than $50,000 in scholarships.
The following Wayzata High School students also received TwinWest scholarships in 2012:
• Timothy Isdahl, $1,000 Designated Scholarship from Allina Hospitals and Clinics
• Ishman Ahmed, $1,000 Partner Scholarship from Alerus Financial
• Kelly Schiro, $1,000, Partner Scholarship from Anchor Bank
• Jacob Kautzky, $1,000 Partner Scholarship from Quality Resource Group
• Emily Bathe, John Bruer, Andrew Harrison, Duligur Ibeling, Megan Langer, Carina Lofgren, Abigail McQuillan, Sarah Sham and Matthew Wilson each received $1,000 TwinWest Foundation Partner scholarships