Strength in Tenacity

“My strength lies solely in my tenacity.”  

-Louis Pasteur

Micah Umeh ’19 knows the value of persistence. Born in Nigeria, he came to the United States before his first birthday.

“My family came to the US through a visa lottery,” Micah explains. “My dad applied so many times for so many years, starting when he was still in college.”

Micah’s father continued to enter the visa lottery year after year, until finally the family was granted legal passage to the United States 16 years ago.

“From my father, I learned persistence,” says Micah. “From my mother, I learned hard work and sacrifice.”

In Nigeria, Micah’s father practiced law; his mother was a physician. To continue practicing medicine in the US, Micah’s mother would have been required to repeat her medical training and licensing. For a family new to this country, that process was rife with insurmountable barriers.

“It is such a huge sacrifice to leave where you were born and where you were raised and where your whole family lives to come to a different country, not knowing if you will be able to be successful here,” Micah says. “My mom sacrificed all of that, as well as her career for myself and for my siblings. She had to find a new way to earn a living—she works very hard to keep a house, and keep us fed, and keep me in this school. I am so grateful for all she has done.”

Micah lives that gratitude in spirit and in deed. Like his parents, he is hard working, determined, and focused, both in the classroom and on the soccer field. He arrived at Taft as a freshman, he says, believing that his talent as an athlete would earn him a key position in the soccer program; he was surprised to find himself cut from the JV team.

“From there I had two choices: I could have cried about it and walked away from soccer, or I could put in the work and say, ‘You know what, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone in the soccer program at Taft who has gone from Thirds to Varsity after one season. Why not work hard and become the first?” says Micah.

He worked diligently on developing his skills throughout the winter and spring. The following summer, Micah traveled back to Nigeria.

“I played a lot there and met many members of my extended family. It reminded me of the sacrifices my parents made to offer me something more. It reminded me to push more—to do more than people might expect, to work that much harder to get that much further.”

And his work did pay off: Micah not only advanced from Thirds to Varsity when he returned to Taft in the fall, but he has been named a team captain for the upcoming season. He is also a member of the track team, an EcoMon, a high-achieving student, and a recognized leader on campus.

“My family has always had the attitude and the mindset that we are willing to fight to get where we want to be, and that’s why I am at Taft today. Whether it is soccer or academics that gets me to the school I want to go to, to the career I want to achieve, I will put in the work and see how far I can go from there,” says Micah. “When I’m doing my homework or I’m on the field I often think about why I do this, and it always comes back to my mom: she’s done so much for me, and I want to do so much for her.”

Micah hopes to honor his mother’s sacrifices by following in her footsteps and attending medical school. With help from a Page Grant, he spent last summer studying neuroscience at Columbia University.

“I don’t take what is given to me or what I earn for granted—it is a blessing, a gift.”