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Student of the Month | December 2020


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December Student of the Month is Iradukunda Gilbert from Riverside High School.

Gilbert is a senior at RHS who is described as a student who emphasizes the importance of hard work and education; in his life experience, that means walking for hours and miles to school in the desert heat or through the rainy season’s torrents to attend a school in Kenya near the refugee camp where he was born.  

Gilbert’s perspective on education is different than most. As a teenager who lived his first fourteen years in desperate circumstances, displaced from his family’s home country and cut off from the opportunities and connections of his community, he views education as the only way to move beyond his limiting conditions and build a successful life which can support himself and his family. Gilbert’s belief in helping others because “what goes around comes around” may seem trite, but he has lived through the ups and downs of fortune’s wheel in ways that only a refugee can describe and is committed to helping others through the power of his commitment to learning.

Gilbert has a tremendous focus on his ultimate goal – a degree in biophysics and a career that uses that knowledge to help others and to earn a living that supports himself, his family, and his community. 

“I plan to attend UNC-Chapel Hill or NC State to major in Biophysics,” said Gilbert. “My career goal is to achieve a Master's degree in Biophysics and achieve my goal to be a Scientist. I use my weaknesses as my strength to motivate myself to keep trying even if it's harder than it looks, also friends, family, and teachers who motivate me to do what It takes to make them proud. When I'm not in school I like to join summer programs or volunteering jobs such as teaching or helping people.”

Gilbert has a strong sense of community and uses his well-developed academic skills and his fluency in both English and Swahili to advise and tutor younger students through his volunteer work with World Relief.

“Gilbert is inspiring to many because of his motivation, perspective, and heart,” said RHS Principal Tonya Williams Leathers. “There is no doubt that Gilbert will leave a lasting impression on all who come into contact with him, as he did within the Riverside community.” 

Gilbert was given Certificates in a summer program called Youth Organization Institute (YOI) in the year 2017 and 2018, during the same years he volunteered in World Relief as a teacher for all subjects, teaching kids age 5+. He considers these two experiences as his greatest accomplishments so far along with enrolling in Durham Technical College as a high student.

We are extremely proud of Gilbert’s commitment to the community and to his peers at Riverside High School. The Durham Public School Board of Education is looking forward to honoring him during the upcoming board meeting on Thursday, Dec. 10.