DES MOINES, Iowa — Sandrah Nasimiyu waited years for this very moment.
The first person in her family to graduate high school in America, the Valley Senior wanted all her loved ones to watch her walk across that stage.
“I have been planning this graduation since my dad got hurt. I knew how I was going to get him here and how everything was going to work out,” Nasimiyu said.
But everything didn’t work out. Her father, Mike Wasike, eventually passed away last January after five years of suffering from a brutal carjacking. Both suspects were sentenced to 50 years in prison for his murder.
“I spiraled in those five years engaging in destructive behavior, resulting from my anger. I couldn’t think clearly,” Nasimiyu said.
With the help of her family and her school, Nasimiyu says through failure, she was given a second chance. It is one that got her to where she is now: one of Valley High School’s commencement speakers.
“I was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and immigrated here with my family because I was dying from a serious heart disorder,” Nasimiyu said.
Her story struck a chord among a packed full Knapp Center.
“On February 26, 2013 when I was 12,” Nasimiyu pauses mid speech while trying to hold back tears. “My father was brutally carjacked and beaten with a gun and was left to die in the middle of a blizzard.”
“I lived in courtrooms and hospitals more than I ever did in a classroom,” Nasimiyu went on to say.
Listening to it all from the crowd were her relatives from Kenya. They were able to be in attendance thanks to a letter sent to the embassy in Nairobi, written and signed by Valley’s principal, David Maxwell.
“We played a small part. That’s one of my responsibilities as a principal, to be advocates for our kids. But truly it’s her vision and the family’s passion, especially with her story and losing her father,” Maxwell said.
Wasike’s older brother, Fidel, was one of them allowed to make the trip.
“We are very proud of her. She has done extremely well under very challenging conditions. We are very happy and are very proud of her,” Fidel Wasike said.
“For my family, I feel like they really needed something to help them heal,” Nasimiyu said. “All of my achievements that I’ve made throughout high school, I feel like I could help my family.”
While her father may not be there in person to watch Nasimiyu walk across that stage. She knows he’s somewhere in the front row, proud.
“I know I’m going to look out and I’m going to see him somewhere at some point,” Nasimiyu said.
Nasimiyu’s aunt was also there from Canada and says her niece is a miracle baby. Nasimiyu plans to attend the University of Iowa this fall to study Global Health and pre-med to someday work in developing countries.
Click here to watch Nasimiyu’s full speech at Valley High School’s graduation ceremony.