By Saleen Martin The Virginian-Pilot
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) 17-year-old Boudnoma Convolbo says she wants to become an orthopedic surgeon and eventually open a hospital in Ouagadougou, the city where she was born.
Boudnoma Convolbo remembers massaging her grandmother's feet in Burkina Faso, the West African country they called home.
She was six years old. She'd visit her grandmother after school, rubbing her feet after she traveled long distances to buy and sell tomatoes and onions at their local market.
"Seeing the relief she'd get, I wanted to give her that every day," said Convolbo.
Now 17 years old and salutatorian at I.C. Norcom High School in Portsmouth, Va., she wants to become an orthopedic surgeon and eventually open a hospital in Ouagadougou, the city where she was born. She came to the U.S. in 2014 to join her family.
"We have one of the lowest doctor to population ratios," she said. "I want to improve it by opening my own hospital and eventually go into rural places and treat people for free."
After graduating from Tidewater Community College on Monday with her associate's degree in science, she's one step closer to doing that.
She completed TCC's dual-enrollment program, where high school students earn college credits. Now, she's all set to graduate from high school next month and move into the dorms at Norfolk State University in the fall as a junior.
She'll join NSU's Dozoretz National Institute for Mathematics and Applied Science, majoring in chemistry.
"I like to challenge myself, and I think that chemistry is the foundation I should have if I will be going to med school," she said.
The oldest of five children, Convolbo said she has had quite the rigorous schedule over the past few years. She started the advanced program in 2016.
Sometimes her days started around 6:40 a.m. and ended at midnight once she wrapped up her homework for both high school and college, she said.
It was worth it because she was able to knock out her associate's degree while completing her high school diploma.
"I took (Advanced Placement) classes because I knew they would transfer to TCC if I passed the exams," she said. "I took AP Biology, AP United States History and AP English. I didn't have to waste time taking it over there again."
She also completed an internship at the Portsmouth City Treasurer's office, working 20 hours a week filing documents and looking up addresses.
But before she managed any of those accomplishments, she had to learn English. Her father is in the U.S. Navy and she came from Burkina Faso five years ago to join him, her mother and siblings.
"The language was different," said Convolbo, who speaks French and Mossi, her native tongue. "Sometimes I couldn't even understand when somebody said 'hello' to me."
Watching anime with subtitles and dubbed in English helped her learn.
"There was a time where I would stop the show to look up every word in a sentence because I didn't understand it," she said.
"Watching those kind of things helped me pick up an American accent easier."
She was also able to use an iPad during lessons when she first started school in the U.S. It helped her translate, she said.
She's excited for her journey as she pursues her dreams. She's also grateful for everyone who has supported her along the way, including her family and guidance counselors at I.C. Norcom and TCC.
She wants other students to know that the first step in reaching your goals is knowing what you want to do.
"If you know where you want to get to, there's always a way to get there," she said. "There will always be a path that will open up to you."