New citizen gets diploma, degree

Rebecca Rakoczy | 5/16/2014, 12:25 p.m.

Fatima Koko was just 7 years old when her family emigrated from Sudan to the United States to escape persecution.

She spoke no English when she started elementary school in Avondale Estates.

“It was a major culture shock,” she recalls. “I don’t think I was bullied, but I was aware that they thought I was different.”

Her family is of Nubian descent, an African minority group experiencing ethnic and political persecution in Sudan.

Fatima said she learned English fast.

“When all the kids would be playing outside, and I would be inside, learning how to read and write,” she said. “My father really emphasized learning the language and didn’t want us to lag behind.”

Flash forward 10 years to May 12, when Fatima received her associate degree in psychology from Georgia Perimeter College and to May 16 when she gets her high school diploma from DeKalb Early College Academy. She was one of nine students in DECA’s 2014 class of 14 to get associate degrees from GPC.

Fatima said she learned about the DeKalb Early College Academy as a middle schooler and immediately applied when she reached high school age.

DECA students study at the academy, located in Stone Mountain at the DeKalb School System’s headquarters, for their first two years of high school, then take classes at GPC’s Clarkston Campus during their junior and senior years, which count for both high school and college credits.

While at GPC, she became involved in the Psychology Club, which fueled her interest in the discipline. Fatima will continue her studies as a junior at the University of Georgia this fall.

“I am leaning toward clinical psychology at UGA, but we’ll see,” she says.

Although she was very young when she left Sudan, Fatima has developed a passion for helping her countrymen.

“I’m a representative in a network of people all over the U.S. who help the people in Sudan by donating money and school supplies,” she says.

This summer, she will travel to Ohio to be a delegate at a Nubian cultural conference.

The fourth of seven children, Fatima has two brothers and four sisters. She recently became a naturalized U.S. citizen in a special ceremony in downtown Atlanta. The honors student and Phi Theta Kappa member said she is grateful for her experience at GPC.

“I think I’ve built a really good foundation here,” she said. “I will be able to transition easily when I get to [University of] Georgia.”

Rebecca Rakoczy writes for Georgia Perimeter College.