adwoa sefah smiling amongst the flowers

Inspired by her mother, Adwoa Sefah approaches her commencement speech with empathy

Adwoa Sefah understood four years ago that Northeastern was the place for her.

“This was the only school I toured,” says Sefah, who will be delivering the nighttime student speech at Northeastern’s undergraduate Commencement ceremony May 13 at Fenway Park. “I just knew, like the minute we started—OK, this is the school I want to go to.”

It was a sense that she couldn’t fully articulate. How could she know that the next four years would test her and her classmates in ways beyond the imagination?

“The COVID-19 pandemic taught me to reach out and connect with people because you were cut off from everyone,” says Sefah, who has served as a resident assistant for the past two years. “And then, in my relationships, I’ve learned to be more patient. Before, it was hard for me to understand that everyone has something going on, everyone is struggling; but with COVID you could really see that it affected people very differently. So taking a step back and seeing how everyone’s dealing with it and trying to respond in such a way that sometimes I’ll just sit and listen to people—I’m still growing, I’m still learning.”

Her sense of empathy will be especially valuable when Sefah enters the University of Illinois College of Medicine in the fall. She pursued her undergraduate degree in cell and molecular biology at Northeastern with the lifelong dream of becoming a doctor—a pediatric surgeon, perhaps.

“I really like working with children and their parents,” she says. “I also want to research health disparities and access to healthcare because in Ghana I grew up in a medically underserved community—it was my whole reason for becoming a doctor.”

Sefah was 12 when she and her two siblings left Ghana with their single mother, Juliana—Adwoa’s role model to this day.

“I have watched her work her way up from McDonald’s to a licensed practical nurse since we arrived in this country,” says Sefah, whose family settled in Worcester, Massachusetts. “We’ve lived a really hard life, and seeing her achieve her dreams while sacrificing everything she has so her children could also achieve theirs serves as my inspiration towards almost everything I do.

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Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University.