While the last piles of snow on campus melt, the Class of 2020 just finished the first round of spring semester midterms. With the turn of the season comes some new events and discoveries for first-year students: some of us are joining a new fraternity or sorority, some are taking their first upper-level classes, and many are becoming more comfortable with our new environments and surroundings.
With this column, I’d like to highlight a student who I’ve had the pleasure to catch up with recently. I was absolutely floored by his story as a student athlete and an international student. I first crossed paths with Victor Yegon ‘20, a religion/global studies major and varsity cross country runner, during freshman orientation. I recently had the opportunity to grab lunch with Victor and learn much more about his journey to Lehigh and his experiences.
Victor, a native of Bomet, Kenya, originally gained an interest in studying in the United States after discovering the liberal arts programs that existed outside of Kenya. However, it became apparent after his sophomore year that his path to the U.S. wouldn’t be easy. Victor’s father, a high school teacher, cut ties with his family at the end of his freshman year of high school and refused to pay for his tuition. Kenya has a law that requires all parents to provide for their child’s education until their 18th birthday, which Victor’s father violated. With the assistance of the local government, Victor took the case to court and eventually returned to school. This presented another challenge: following the lawsuit, Victor had only one year left before his birthday, meaning that he was forced to skip his junior year in high school to graduate on time.
Victor described to me the various challenges that this caused, including a nine percent on his first chemistry exam. However, it became apparent to me that he is no stranger to grit. Pushing through his senior year, he emerged as an incredibly successful student with close to perfect grades his senior year.
Even after this, Victor still had challenges coming to the United States. Victor was looking to be a part of the KenSAP program, which assists Kenyan students in applying to American colleges and universities. KenSAP requires all students to have perfect grades, which he missed by a small margin. After telling his story and gaining an exception, Victor travelled over 200 miles in rural Kenya in one day in order to make his interview, a feat that shocked and impressed KenSAP.
Also part of his KenSAP application was a footrace, which Victor was unprepared for. While other applicants brought athletic shoes, Victor wasn’t allowed on the field with the formal shoes that he brought to interview. He ran barefoot, and amazingly won first place, running 2,000 meters (1.24 miles) under 5 minutes without any athletic gear. Before that race, Victor had never seriously trained, and this success prompted him to contact potential schools and inquire about cross country. This impressive showing warranted his admission into KenSAP, which led him to Lehigh.
Victor stressed to me that failure was never an option for him; against all odds, he rose to the challenge and wasn’t afraid to ask for what he wanted. More recently, Victor hosted a Kenyan food night at Rathbone Hall, using his experience with Kenyan cuisine to hold a successful night for students. He explained to me that his Kenyan heritage was extremely important to him, and was looking for ways to connect with it away from home.
I feel blessed to know Victor because his grit is almost unmatched by anybody else I know. I have no doubt that the rest of his experience at Lehigh will be great.