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Raleigh grad with challenging life graduates with honors

Sommiya Brown will attend East Carolina University on scholarships earned in Raleigh with 3.6 grade-point average despite challenging youth.

Sommiya Brown will attend East Carolina University on scholarships earned in Raleigh with 3.6 grade-point average despite challenging youth.

Courtesy of Stephanie Cameron

The world should have expected great and surprising things from Sommiya Brown when, at Christmas around age 5, she asked for a graduated cylinder for a gift.

“I put together all types of little inventions,” she said, giggling at the memory.

On Friday, this science geek since kindergarten graduated with honors from Wake Women’s Leadership Academy, carrying a 3.6 grade-point average and collecting 40 college credits.

She garnered 16 college acceptances and $700,000 in scholarship offers, but she chose nearby East Carolina University, in hopes of becoming a chemical engineer.

Standing out

Raleigh is overflowing with happy graduates in mortarboards, but Brown stands out for the bumpy road she followed.

Her father is incarcerated in South Carolina, and has spent her life behind bars. Since the pandemic began, her family has been able to visit only once.

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Sommiya Brown got 16 college acceptances and $700,000 in scholarship offers, raised by a single parent with her father incarcerated.

Her mother, Stephanie Cameron, raised Brown by herself, while both working and caring for her disabled mother, who suffered from multiple sclerosis until dying in 2018.

Often, Brown said, she felt out of place in school, and had trouble connecting with friends who did not share her experience.

‘Break open any barriers’

“She has been determined to break open any barriers,” her mother said. “This story is a true testament to overcoming the odds.”

She leaves home in an era where youth have already faced COVID-19 and the world that is still fractured by the toll it took politically and socially.

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Sommiya Brown will attend East Carolina University on scholarships earned in Raleigh with 3.6 grade-point average despite challenging youth. Courtesy of Stephanie Cameron

But she calls herself a future thinker, unburdened by past difficulties.

“I see more problems coming,” she said, “so there’s more problems to fix.”

This story is part of our regular “On the Bright Side” feature. Got a suggestion for a story that will bring a smile to our readers? E-mail Josh Shaffer at jshaffer@newsobserver.com.

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Josh Shaffer is a general assignment reporter on the watch for “talkers,” which are stories you might discuss around a water cooler. He has worked for The News & Observer since 2004 and previously wrote a column about unusual people and places.

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