Felicia Ikpum arrived at the airport from Nigeria, obviously expecting to be welcomed by her son. But when she did see him, the expression of elation was mixed with a great degree of surprise. “He has changed completely”, she said. It had been four years since they last saw each other. However, neither Mike nor his mother had known just a few weeks before that this reunion was going to be possible. Thanks to a surprise move from his classmates, they were standing on the podium together at the John Carroll School’s baccalaureate ceremony. Graduation for Mike could not have been sweeter.
Mike Tertsea, who says he is his mother’s only child, had lived with her in Benue state before leaving for the United States to study. His time at the school in Harford County, Maryland, has seen him excel in college sport. His classmates, however, interested in his future they might have been, thought that the present need for his mother to be there when graduation day came had to be taken care of. Even though it meant raising $1,763 for Mrs. Ikpum’s trip to the US. And when they shared the stage together at the school ceremony, a few tears strayed from the eyes of some classmates.
The general feeling though, as expressed by the students, was one of gladness at their being able to pull the whole thing off. Joe Kyburz, senior class president, explaining the reason for their surprise treat, said “We wanted to exemplify the closeness of our community, and we wanted to do something valuable for one of our classmates.” The senior class raised close to $2,000 for the trip. When the class was about $500 short of the required amount, the class co-adviser raised the remaining money in record time by emailing the school’s staff. Kishan Patel, student government president, suggested that the venture had not been difficult, “because there were so many people willing to help”; for them, “it was a joy to do this”.
Mike described the occasion as a blessing. “I was really, really surprised,” he said with a big smile on his face. “I thank everyone for coming here.” His mother also praised the students and staff, describing them as kind. She talked about her son’s achievements, his happiness, and the joy of seeing him again.
Felicia, 56, intends to stay in the US for two weeks. Meanwhile, Mike’s sight is set on the University of Rhode Island, where he wants to major in Economics or Business Management. At the moment, he can look forward to having a memorable graduation ceremony with his mother by his side.