Canada: Mansa Agbaku, Saint John teen, lands Currie Scholarship

By Rachel Cave, CBC News – A high school student in Saint John has been awarded one of the most generous undergraduate scholarships available in Canada.

17-year-old Mansa Agbaku says the $65,000 Currie Scholarship will cover four years of tuition, room and board at the University of New Brunswick (UNB).

“It means everything to me,” said the St. Malachy’s High School student. “It’s motivation for sure. It also means that my parents won’t have to worry.”

Agbaku’s parents currently work two jobs each to support their three daughters.

Mercy Agbaku picks up 40 to 50 hours a week between her cashier job at the grocery store and providing personal support to seniors.

“Mostly we are here because of the children. That way, they will have a better future. Because at home, if you don’t have the money, [with] all the knowledge you have, you won’t get far,” she said.

By home, Mercy means Ghana.

Mansa’s father, Eric, says he left that country in 1989 and came to Saint John where he drove a taxi day and night until his wife and two oldest daughters arrived in 1996.

Youngest daughter Mansa was born in New Brunswick.

In the essay she wrote as part of her scholarship application, Mansa thanked her parents for the sacrifices they made and the advice her father handed out to his children.

“He told us that because were were girls and the only thing that we were rich in was melanin, we had been at a disadvantage since the moment we were born,” she wrote. “He explained that the multitude would often expect less of us, that we would have to work twice as hard to get half as far — that we would constantly feel as though we had started the race a minute late.”

Striving for excellence

Eric says he pushed his daughters to achieve high grades in school. If they came home with 95 per cent on a test, he would ask them to go after the other five per cent at the next opportunity.

“If you perform above everybody else, they will look at you,” said Agbaku, reflecting on what he taught his children.

“Your colour will not be an issue. But if you are in the middle of the pack, then they can pick and choose. So I never settled for ‘just passed.’ I always insisted on excellence. And that is what has happened.”

The Currie Scholarships were established by Richard Currie, Chancellor Emeritus at UNB. The university calls him its greatest living benefactor.

Currie is credited with leading the Loblaws supermarket chain through 25 years of growth, and leaving it with a market value of $15 billion. But before he entered corporate life, he studied at UNB with the help of a Beaverbrook Scholarship.

In a promotional video on UNB’s web site, he says that scholarship and the jobs he held in the summer enabled him to graduate without owing a penny.

Associate Registrar Kathy Waugh says Currie reviews the scholarships each year to make sure they keep pace with the rising costs of a post-secondary education.

This year, Currie Scholarships were boosted from $50,000 to $65,000 for all four Maritime recipients who demonstrated outstanding leadership skills inside and outside the classroom.

Mansa says she never thought to apply until she was urged to do so at school.

‘She’s very modest’

She says her English teacher, Christopher Stacey, helped her find the confidence to go for it.

“When you read her essay, you realize what she understands about her own situation. She’s very modest about it and it’s very humbling. I mean, it did read like a piece of literature,” said Stacey.

“She understands that the love and support she’s received from her parents has helped her to be successful as she has.”

Mansa’s oldest sister already has a graduate degree in chemical engineering. The middle sister is studying mechanical engineering at the University of Ottawa. Mansa says she hopes to study medicine one day.

She and her parents are open to the idea that she might go to Ghana to work as a doctor.

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