‘Great Grads’ Triumph over Deportation and Other Challenges at JCSU

They triumphed over deportation, language barriers, and challenges to their dreams to receive their just rewards. 

For four years, each of these students embodied Johnson C. Smith University’s motto, “Become Yourself. Change Our World.” They triumphed over deportation, language barriers, and challenges to their dreams to stand proudly May 20, 2018, and receive their just rewards. As they prepare to leave our halls, JCSU is proud to share the stories of our Great Grads.

Valedictorian Damara Garcia-Garcia, graduating with a bachelor of science in psychology with a minor concentration in biology and is a Teach For America 2018 Greater Nashville Corp Member. “In 2015, my family experienced what many immigrants in America face: incarceration and deportation.”




Salutatorian Valeria Hernandez, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and is headed to Charlotte Latin School as a teacher. Her mother was deported in November, but “I never once considered dropping out of college,” Hernandez said. “My mom told me from the start, that ‘Whatever happens with me, I don’t want you to leave school.’ I made a promise.”

Annie Walton, earning a bachelor of science degree in computer science and information systems and headed to a software developer with Infosys Technologies in Raleigh. Walton has been studying robotics since childhood.




Ashenafi Abera Tsaudu, earning a Bachelor of Science degree with a double concentration in computer engineering and mathematics. Orphaned as a teen, he came to Charlotte from Mekelle, Ethiopia, with few connections and a language barrier. He graduates with one of the top GPAs in the university. “I’ve had a passion for math since I was little,” Tsaudu said. “I love math, because it’s about solving problems.”


Alana Worth, earning a bachelor of arts degree with a double concentration in accounting and economics, has accepted a client specialist position with Alight Solutions, which outsources human resources for major firms such as Duke Energy, Coca Cola and Spectrum. As president of the Student Government Association during a down year, Worth built up her entire board from scratch. “Economics challenged me because instead of a sure answer, you’re always questioning—mapping out the future events based off things that have happened in the past,” Worth said. “I learned to voice my opinion and back it up with proven points.”


Gary Kasey, graduating with a Bachelor of Social Work degree, heading to the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work MSW program. “I know I was fulfilling my purpose by going to school, but cerebral palsy affects my fine motor skills so I needed someone to take notes and assist me.  My dad came to all of my classes and internships. I wouldn’t be successful without that good support system in my life.”


Shaquana Janeisha Douglas, graduating with a bachelor of science degree in biology and chemistry and has enlisted in the U.S. Army to become a medical commissioned officer.




Temitope Ashorobi, graduating with a bachelor of social work degree, has received advanced placement in the Fall 2018 cohort of Howard University’s School of Social Work. “Social work has been a huge part of my growth and development,” Ashorobi said. “I have had experiences with social workers in one way or another throughout my adolescence, and I came to love the aspect of advocating for those who don’t have the ability to strengthen and empower themselves.”