Senegalese men among Summit County’s Colorado Mountain College graduates
While Summit County’s ski resorts and scenery attract people from other countries, increasingly so do its educational opportunities.
Two men from Senegal, a country on the west coast of Africa, were among the 161 students from the Colorado Mountain College campuses in Breckenridge and Dillon who earned degrees and certificates and were honored at the school’s annual graduation ceremony.
Both Alioune Ndour, 25, and Djibril Diol, 24, received associate of science degrees in physics.
Their graduating class included those who finished their courses in the fall and spring and those who will finish in the summer. Students earned a total of 29 bachelor’s degrees, 121 associate’s degrees and 30 certificates of occupational proficiency, and some graduates earned more than one degree or certificate.
More than 500 people attended the ceremony at Keystone Conference Center on Friday, May 1, in which 71 students participated.
Debbie Devine, student support generalist at CMC in Breckenridge, said the college’s Summit graduating class was the largest ever and has been growing a little every year.
LEARNING SCHOOL ISN’T FREE
Ndour moved to Silverthorne in April 2012. After a year of college classes in Dakar, Senegal’s capital, Ndour wanted to go to school in the U.S.
He had never heard of Colorado, but a former neighbor who was living in Summit told him the county was home to beautiful people and Ndour could focus on his studies in the quiet community as well as find a job despite his limited English. The two became roommates.
Diol arrived in Silverthorne a couple months later because his dad, who helped him with attaining an American visa, knew people in Summit. Both men joined the county’s large community of West Africans from Senegal and Mauritania and started taking classes.
Diol, the first in his family to go to college, was in an English club in high school that helped him communicate easily when he arrived in the States, he said, though he had to adjust to the American accent after learning British English.
Ndour was the first in his family to continue education past elementary school, he said, and because he didn’t devote much attention to learning English in Senegal he struggled to communicate.
“People were speaking. I couldn’t even catch one word,” Ndour said, adding that the English he heard sounded like Chinese.
He took English as a Second Language classes through CMC, and now he speaks four languages fluently — English, French, Wolof and Serer — and is learning a fifth, Fulani, Diol’s mother tongue.
In Senegal, higher education is free and college students don’t typically work so they can focus on studying. Both men were surprised by the cost of classes combined with their living expenses.
Diol said his biggest struggle over the last few years has been paying for school, especially when he first arrived. He considering quitting his CMC program, he said, until he was able to secure in-state tuition and federal funding.
Like many CMC students, both men completed their classes while working steady jobs.
Diol frequently worked shifts from 4 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the City Market in Breckenridge, and he said his philosophy became, “When you get five hours, sleep. When you get four hours, sleep.”
Ndour said he secured his first job ever in Summit, working at Lowe’s Home Improvement in Silverthorne, so he could pay his own way through school as well as occasionally send money home.
PLANS TO BECOME ENGINEERS
In their free time, Ndour and Diol said they enjoy playing soccer and basketball and exercising at the Silverthorne Recreation Center.
They both communicate with their families every day or two through phone calling, video chatting and instant messaging applications, and they noted two aspects of American communication that immediately struck them as different and later positive.
Ndour said his time in the U.S. has taught him to smile at friends, acquaintances and sometimes strangers, even when he doesn’t find something particularly funny or joyful, which is when people smile in Senegal.
Diol said he’s learned to make eye contact during interactions with people, which is rare except among friends in Senegal. He was accustomed to looking at the ground out of respect for elders, even friends only a couple years his senior.
Both men spoke positively of their experiences at CMC and the teachers who helped them along the way.
“I like CMC. I’m going to miss it,” Diol said.
He was especially grateful when math teacher Bénédicte Jeanson loaned him a couple textbooks so he didn’t have to buy them.
She also encouraged both men to enter a biannual math competition through the American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges, in which Diol placed second and Ndour fourth.
Both men plan to travel home to Senegal for the first time since they left three years ago to visit family before they transfer to four-year universities in the U.S. in the spring.
Ndour wants to study electrical engineering, and Diol said he would likely study civil engineering at a Colorado university.
After growing up around materials and innovations brought by non-Africans, Ndour said, he will keep reaching toward his dream of creating something, perhaps a technology, that will be used in his home continent and not come from an outsider.
“Maybe that can be me,” he said. “I can be the proud son of Africa.”
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