For the nearly 400 students awarded degrees during winter commencement, those journeys will take them “down the road between hither and yon,” to places both familiar and unexpected. Below are just three stories of the many high fliers who will soar to high heights.
Culture shock – that’s what Chioma Nwogu says she remembers most about her freshman year at Missouri Southern.
Coming to Joplin from Abuja, Nigeria, at just 16 years old, she didn’t know anyone and didn’t take advantage of the opportunities available for international students to get involved in campus life.
Her second year? That’s when things began to look up.
“I got involved with the international group, where they have host families for students and people who will take them out,” Nwogu says. “I realized I needed to get up and move … that there were people who wanted to get to know this Nigerian girl who graduated at 16 and could speak English really well.”
During her time at Southern, she was a member of the Campus Activities Board, the Finance Club, the Honors Program and the Southern Ambassadors and Lion Ambassadors. One experience that was very meaningful was her time as president of the International Club.
Nwogu – who has also studied French – began teaching herself Korean in order to form a bond with other international students.
“I thought that if I learned their language, they would see there were people who were interested in them,” she says.
She has returned to Nigeria, where she will do a year-long stint in a youth corps program. After that, she plans to enroll in graduate school and become involved in the financial sector.
To those who follow in her footsteps at Missouri Southern, she has this hard-earned wisdom to share: Get involved.
“Don’t be afraid,” she says. “You don’t have to feel lonely. This can be the best experience of your life.”
George Langston is originally from the UK, growing up in a small town in the Worcestershire region of England.
“My mom’s dad was in the Air Force,” he says. “He met my grandmother in the UK and moved back and forth quite a bit. In 2009, my mom started thinking of moving back to America since he still had a lot of family here. She got her citizenship and moved us to Altamont, Kan., and my stepdad and I got our citizenship. I graduated from high school there and then came to Missouri Southern.”
Like Nwogu, he says starting his freshman year was a bit nerve-wracking since he didn’t know anyone.
“But I bumped into a group of guys and we’ve been friends for the last three and a half years,” he says.
While he originally intended to major in health promotion and wellness, he found his calling in the social work program.
“I wanted to work with individuals who were in recovery, then I got into juvenile justice and helping kids out who are in those situations,” he says.
During his time at Southern, Langston completed an internship with the Jasper County court system, gaining experience in the drug court and juvenile offices.
Having dual citizenship and splitting his formative years between England and the Midwest has certainly broadened his perspective, says Langston. Now, after nearly a decade in the United States, he plans to continue his education in the other country he calls home.
He’s returning to England, where he has a seasonal position with PGL – an outdoor youth education program. He has also applied for the master’s of criminology program at the University of Plymouth.
“My far-fetched dream is to become a homicide detective,” he says. “But I want to go into criminology to work with kids or individuals who need help.”
Unlike Nwogu and Langston, Makenzie Marshall’s journey began here. Having completed her degree, “settling down” has become something of a foreign concept.
Originally from Joplin, she missed the winter commencement ceremony as she was with her husband in Cardiff, Wales.
Marshall began her studies in English literature at Missouri Southern in 2013. During her time at MSSU, she spent a month studying Japanese at Ryukoku University in Kyoto, Japan, and participated in the English Department’s Literary Paris course.
“Going away gives you a new perspective,” says Marshall. “Living and traveling abroad teaches you humility and acceptance of other beliefs and mentalities. I’ve largely learned to be more openminded and to get away from the idea that America is the center of the world.”
She met her husband and got engaged in 2016. She traveled to Wales to stay with him for several months, then he came to the U.S. to stay with her.
“Then we moved to Cardiff, which is his hometown, and through the EU we were able to move to Ireland,” she says.
She returned to Missouri to finish her degree, but then it was back to Cardiff … at least for the short term.
They’re both currently working to obtain dual citizenship in one another’s home country. She plans to work with VIPKID, an online education program that pairs English majors with students from Asian countries who are learning to speak English.
“I don’t really see us settling down anywhere,” says Marshall. While she has applied to several graduate schools in the U.S., she says she and her husband are already looking ahead to the future and where they’ll live next. New Zealand is a possibility.
“We want to experience places and not be tied down,” she says. “We don’t want to just visit somewhere…we want to live there and understand it from a native perspective.”