Rocky River Graduate Luwam Tesfay

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MINT HILL, NC – Rocky River High School graduate Luwam Tesfay’s parents Almaz Tekle and Kesete Tesfay were both born in Eritrea, a northeast African country on the Red Sea coast bordered by Ethiopia, Sudan and Djibouti.

Ruled by unelected President Isaias Afewerki since 1993, Eritrea has no legislature, no independent civil society organizations, and no independent judiciary.  A transitional constitution guaranteeing civil rights drafted at independence has never been implemented, resulting in widespread and unchecked violence throughout the country.

“The violence in Eritrea forced my dad to flee to Sudan and Ethiopia and settle in refugee camps,” explains Luwam.  “After a few more years, he was granted a visa to move to America. After settling in Los Angeles, he returned to Eritrea to marry my mom and bring her back to America, where they had their first two kids, Senay and Abel, my two older brothers.”  A decade later, they moved to Charlotte, where Luwam was born.

Luwam’s experience at Rocky River High School has been quite different than it would have been had she grown up in Eritrea.  According to the Borgen Project, 19% of Eritrean children were not enrolled in primary school in 2018, and 70% of children between 11 and 13 did not attend secondary school.  Girls are expected to marry at a relatively young age while boys are expected to pursue more serious jobs and contribute to the household income.

At Rocky River, Luwam was able to participate in clubs and sports teams that don’t exist in Eritrea.  She capped off Spirit Week in 2022 by earning the crown as Homecoming Queen, one of her favorite memories from high school.  She challenged herself with AP courses during COVID and took a total of six advanced placement courses as well as a college class during her junior and senior years.

“It was very challenging to balance many classes as a student-athlete, but I managed to prioritize my time management to fully execute the title,” says Luwam.  “I really value my education here at Rocky River and take advantage of it.”

Next year, Luwam will attend UNC-Greensboro, where she plans to major in kinesiology.  “I aspire to become an athletic trainer and continue at UNC Chapel Hill to become a physical therapist,” she says.  “I will also take part in my interest in modeling with small brands and businesses.” 

“As a child of immigrant parents, I may say I am held to very high standards,” says Luwam when asked what advice she would give to other children of immigrants attending school in the US.  “It may be stressful and take a toll on my self-esteem, but it’s only to push my own self-standards and goals. So don’t take your parent’s criticism to heart, they only want what is best for you and your future.”

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Mary Beth Foster
Mary Beth Foster works part time as an essay specialist at Charlotte Latin School and full time as a mom to her eight-year-old daughter Hannah and her six-year-old son Henry. Prior to having children, she worked as a high school English teacher for nine years. Most recently, she chaired the English department at Queen's Grant High School. She and her husband have lived in Mint Hill with their children and their cats since 2011. Email: