GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. — Like thousands of other graduates in Guilford County, Murray Massaquoi will walk across the graduation stage this weekend.
Murray’s family worked just as hard for him to reach this moment. His mom and dad are refugees from Sierra Leone who moved here during the country’s civil war.
“My mom and dad and my older sister and brother moved here back in ’99. And me and my sisters stayed back in Africa, and they’ve worked their tail off doing everything they can to bring us over here,” Murray explained.
His dad, Patrick Massaquoi, says he and his wife did everything from housekeeping to working at Walmart to earn enough money. Eventually Patrick found steady work with a local retirement home he’s worked with for fourteen years.
One by one, the Massaquois brought their seven children to America.
“Me and my wife worked very hard for them,” Patrick said. He explained it was heartbreaking to be separated from his children, but they stayed determined. At the same time, they managed to pay for the kids’ private school in Africa.
“Our dad made sure every month that our school fees were paid, that we had lunch to go to school. Sitting at home wasn’t an option. We had to go to school,” Murray remembers of his childhood in Sierra Leone. The priority of education was made clear even at a young age.
After not seeing his mom and dad for ten years, Murray was the last sibling to make it to America and reunite with his family. He barely spoke English when he started middle school in 2008.
“The first time we started school my dad sat me down and told me everything I needed to know. We come from a poor background. They don’t have a lot. Education was going to be the way out. And since day one, I just put that in my head.”
Murray started at the Newcomers School, designed for recent refugees. He then attended Northeast High School in McLeansville.
“Most people would use that as an excuse. He used it as a catapult to ascertain and surpass those expectations,” said Lynne Fedor, Murray’s teacher and mentor at Northeast.
She says he’s been a soccer star in high school while keeping academics a priority. Murray was the class president this year, took several AP classes and is Microsoft certified. He volunteers with Student Council, National Honor Society and also helps tutors students who have recently moved from other countries.
Fedor described the qualities she most admires in the young man. “The perseverance and the ability to succeed. Against all odds. Because this story could have had such a different ending. And that wasn’t even a possibility in Murray’s mind. Success was the only option.”
Murray plans to study business and finance at UNCG and hopes to be a “walk-on” with the soccer team.
“Maybe become a CEO of a company one day or start my own business,” Murray told FOX8.
For his parents, Murray’s graduation represents a lifetime of challenges that were all worth it.
Patrick added, “We are really proud. Everybody is proud in the family for Murray, because he’s the first one graduating from high school to college and university for that matter. So we are really happy.”