Adonay Sissay follows his brother, named chief student marshal, too

Adonay Sissay was the toast of Southern University’s summer 2012 graduating class with his 3.91 grade point average, the highest among of the 262 students who graduated at 10:30 a.m. Friday, in the F.G. Clark Activity Center.


Sissay, a chemistry major from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was the Chief Student Marshal, and led his fellow graduates into the Activity Center. He is the second in his family to be the Chief Student Marshal. His brother, Michael, a physics major, earned the title for the spring 2002 commencement.


Interestingly, both brothers had a 3.91 g.p.a.


The chemistry major said the achievement gives him a feeling of accomplishment. “I am proud of myself for how far I have come since leaving Ethiopia where it is hard to get a good education,” said Sissay.


That Sissay is graduating in chemistry is no small accomplishment. Students in Ethiopia do not choose their own career path. Instead, once they graduate from high school their field of study is assigned by the Ministry of Education if they plan to attend a college in Ethiopia.


Sissay was selected to study computer science, a subject of little interest to him. His heart was set on studying chemistry and the sciences.


An education in the U.S. became a reality when his brother Micheal’s professor, Dr. Diola Bagayoko, chair of the Department of Physics at Southern, attended a conference in Ethiopia. After hearing Sissay’s story Bagayoko made a stop to the Sissay’s home to discuss opportunities at Southern.


Bagayoko offered Sissay an assistantship under the title of Affiliate Scholar of Timbuktu Academy, led by Bagayoko.  

Heading to college for any young student requires an adjustment. For Sissay heading to college  in a foreign country, half way around the world, was a learning experience.

 Adapting to the United States and south Louisiana was a challenge for Sissay. “I had to adjust to the way they teach in the states but I have learned a lot educationally and culturally…It is a huge privilege to get an education in the states.”


Sissay worked for Bagayoko throughout his time at Southern. Since international students are not allowed to receive financial aid, he relied on the assistantship and scholarships to help pay for tuition. Sissay also received the Honors College Scholarship and the Chemistry Department Scholarship that helped pay for other costs and tuition.


Sissay said he also benefitted from advice his brother provided about his experiences at Southern. “I tried to mimic him. He always helped me with my academics and put me in touch with people at Southern,” said Sissay. “Being a student marshal like my brother is an accomplishment because following in his footsteps is fulfilling.”


Bagayoko said Sissay has made him proud. “He is an exemplary student who demonstrates a character of working well with others. Adonay is on his way to do good things.”


Sissay said he plans to continue his education and to seek a Ph.D in chemistry.  He has a brother, Nebiat, who is working on a Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Missouri.  His brother, Michael, is working in South Carolina and a sister, Mariamawit, is working on her master’s degree in bio-technology in France.


“My parents are glad that everyone has left the house,” laughs Sissay.  He says his parents, who still live in Addis Ababa, always call to congratulate their children and give advice on their educational paths.


“I am proud of myself for how far I have come. I have fulfilled what I wanted,” said Sissay.

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