Jean-Jacques (JJ) Ndayisenga ’13 knew his mother couldn’t make his college graduation. She lives in northern Rwanda. She had never been outside her own country. And, even if she wanted to come, thousands of dollars and 7,000 miles stood between her and Mayflower Hill.
So Ndayisenga did what’s he’s done since leaving home six years ago to pursue is education. He got on with his life, working right through finals as Student Government Association treasurer before enjoying Senior Week activities.
Three nights before commencement he went to a classmate’s house in Waterville for dinner. He was told there was a surprise for him. When the door opened, there were his mother, Julienne Nyiraebarinda, and his brother Cyriaque Harelimana, who had traveled with her, along with a dozen of his closest friends who orchestrated the surprise.
He was “stunned at first,” said Shany Tropper ’13, who helped pull off the international caper. “He actually doubled over, almost to his knees. Everyone there was crying.”
Classmate Cara Saunders ’13 came up with the idea back in January. She, Tropper, and Chiran Bhandari ’13 sent out an e-mail to friends, and it went viral. They ended up with more than $4,500 from 30 or 40 people, Saunders said, including many they don’t even know—donations from students, students’ parents, alumni, even students’ grandparents.
“I was just incredible,” said Ndayisenga of the surprise. “It was hard to believe that people care that much about me. It shows that this isn’t just a normal friendship that we share.”
Ndayisenga’s plight is not unique at a college with students from 79 countries. So what’s special about JJ?
“What’s not special about JJ?” said Tropper, who was his classmate at the United World College of Costa Rica before they came to Colby. “He’s just given so much. He loves Colby so much. And everybody loves him.”
Besides being elected SGA treasurer last year, he was named Mr. Colby at the annual Mr. Colby Contest this spring, a send-up of a beauty pageant in which Colby men compete in talent, Q&A, and even swimsuit competitions.
Following commencement Ndayisenga took to Facebook. “I will prove you wrong if you think that there is a place with a better community than Colby’s. Never!” he wrote. “Congrats 2013, and thank you so much Colby for all you have given me: you all people are truly amazing!”
By the next day, 138 people had liked the post.