Student Anaya Akpalu 2021

Giving Matters: Anaya Akpalu ’21


The Structure to Succeed

Agatha Akyere suspected there might be something special about her daughter, Anaya, when she began to speak at the age of 5 months. When Anaya’s teachers promoted her to second grade because she was bored in first, her mother was determined to find a school that would challenge her. “I wanted her education to be better than mine,” says Agatha, who had no formal schooling as a child in Ghana but after coming to the United States at age 14, eventually earned a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Teachers College. “Living in the inner city, the options were not good.”

Agatha enrolled Anaya in a series of New York City public and charter schools, but still wasn’t satisfied. She finally secured her daughter a spot at The Mandell School, an independent school in Manhattan, and from there, Anaya came to Williston, supported by the Francis C. “Cork” O’Keefe ’19 Scholarship. Now a junior, Anaya is anything but bored.

“I’m proud of creating a challenging schedule for myself,” she says. “I don’t think I could even tell you how many clubs I’m in.” Two of particular note: the Multicultural Student Union, which she will help run this year, and Model United Nations, which she says has been particularly engaging. “I always was pretty good at debate and I wanted an equivalent to that,” she explains. “It uses people skills, plus logic, plus actual learning. It’s really fun.”

And then there are athletics: volleyball, track and field (she competed in pole vault last year), and wrestling, a co-ed sport she tried on a lark that turned out to be, she says, “the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life.” Oh, and she’s also a proctor in Memorial Hall East, an accomplished poet, and a consistent presence on the honor roll.

Surprisingly, all this achievement does not come naturally, says Anaya. “I’m the kind of person that won’t do something unless I’m forced. Williston forces you to do stuff without your realizing it. I would never exercise if Williston didn’t force us to do sports every day. When I was at a day school, I would never sit down and get my homework done because no one took away my phone and made me have study hall.”

Her new environment has changed her perspective, she says. “Being at Williston, where my social life is all controlled by me, now I take responsibility. If I get a B on a test, I’m upset at myself. I care much more about what I’m doing.”

And that’s just what her mother was hoping to hear. “I needed a school that would help me give my daughter the opportunity to be successful,” says Agatha. “Williston has helped Anaya, not just educationally but also socially. She’s excelling tremendously. Williston is helping her define who she is and what it is she wants.”

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