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Faith, family help grad earn trip to Harvard

Bishop Lynch High School graduate Yonatan Girma of the Class of 2015 credits faith, family and his school as he prepares to attend Harvard University in the fall. (JENNA TETER/The Texas Catholic)

Bishop Lynch High School graduate Yonatan Girma of the Class of 2015 credits faith, family and his school as he prepares to attend Harvard University in the fall. (JENNA TETER/The Texas Catholic)

By Cathy Harasta

The Texas Catholic

Bishop Lynch High School 2015 graduate Yonatan Girma cherishes his childhood memories of playing classic board games and solving brain-teasing puzzles with his Ethiopian-born aunt and two of the family’s teen-aged countrywomen.

The women, who lived with Girma’s family, had no idea that they were helping to prepare him to attend Harvard University, where he will major in mechanical engineering this fall.

The teens kept Girma busy and inquisitive while his parents worked day and night to establish their home in Garland, where Girma was born a year after his parents left Ethiopia.

Girma, 18, said that he valued not only the blessings of a nurturing home, but also his parents’ generosity in sharing all they had with their houseguests as the young women acquired their educations.

“It was always at the back of my mind that my mom and dad cared so much for others,” said Girma, whose family moved to Sachse when he was 8. “My parents would go that extra mile to make room and help those who had less than we had.”

Girma, who goes by “Yoni,” emphatically welcomed the births of his sisters, Eden, 12, and Liya, 10. His mother, Yeshewa, had to remind him to let others occasionally get a chance to hold and fuss over the new babies, said Girma, whose family belongs to Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Garland.

Yeshewa, who worked nights while earning her master’s degree in nursing, is a nurse practitioner. Girma’s father, Girma Gebra, worked for a trucking company that relocated out of state in 2013.

“Our father was laid off, which was a downer and very stressful for us,” said Girma, who attended Good Shepherd Catholic School in Garland and St. Joseph Catholic School in Richardson before Bishop Lynch. “I helped him to find a job with a company that makes windows and appliances.”

Girma’s strong academic record and well-rounded interests gained him acceptance to top Texas universities before he decided to apply to Harvard and Stanford University.

“I wanted it to be as easy as possible for my parents to send my sisters to Bishop Lynch,” said Girma, whose sisters attend St. Pius X Catholic School. “I had my mind pretty much set on going to Texas A&M University. My mom had always talked about Harvard as if it would be a dream for her to have her son attend there. I thought, ‘It’s really ambitious to apply to Harvard and Stanford because their acceptance rates are so low.’ ”

Both universities accepted him, but he said that he feared the costs even with financial aid from the schools.
“When I got the acceptance from Harvard on March 31, it was a really surreal moment,” he said. “But my parents and I couldn’t do it without financial aid. When I received the financial package, it exceeded those of all the other colleges. I was like, ‘Wow, there’s no way I can say no to this offer.’ ”

He will travel to Boston and visit Cambridge to see Harvard for the first time on June 19.

“He will do well,” said Bishop Lynch science teacher Sister Cecilia Sehr, O.P., who taught Girma Honors Chemistry, AP Physics and AP Chemistry. “He’s got an excellent work ethic. He realizes that he’s got to bring his ‘A’ game.”

She said that Girma’s intelligence and wit inspired the Bishop Lynch community.

“He’s a gentleman in the sense that he has poise and knows how to act,” Sister Cecilia said. “He’s a very reverent person. I think his faith means a lot to him.”

Bishop Lynch counselor Jan Hublein said that Girma stood out because of his ability to remain centered.
“He’s very down-to-earth,” she said. “He’s also very humble. He’s going to go far in life. His classmates were so proud of his acceptance to Harvard. I told him, ‘Dude, this is your spring and your semester.’ ”

Girma, who was the Prom King and whose classmates voted him the Senior of the Year, gave one of the speeches at Bishop Lynch’s graduation on May 17.

He said that he appreciated the chance to assimilate what school and life had meant for him and his classmates, so far, and what they should remember as they moved to their next chapters.

“I thought about how to leave a really good message,” he said. “The message is that it’s on us to never lose our faith and to stay in touch with our spirituality.”

Be sure to pick up a print copy of the June 19 edition of The Texas Catholic for a salute to the Class of 2015.