Student ruled out failure, excelled in sports and academics, and won a full college scholarship
Bill Ngha sometimes pulled all-nighters when the basketball team returned to school late and he had to take two different buses to get home.
And sometimes the Phillip O. Berry Academy senior came to school hungry, because there was no food at his northeast Charlotte home.
His parents had been ordered deported to Africa, and he'd been left alone with his sister, then 19.
"It could have gone so wrong," said Tavia Tubbs, a Communities In Schools counselor at Berry Academy.
But Bill, 18, will graduate Sunday with a grade-point average approaching 3.5 and a full scholarship to college.
"After what my parents went through for me," he said, "I couldn't even think of not succeeding."
Bill's parents, Agnes and Ivo Mih'Ngha, were ordered deported to Cameroon, a west central African nation, near the end of Bill's freshman year. Agnes, still in Cameroon, hasn't seen her son in three years. Ivo was permitted back into the U.S. last year.
"They gave up everything for us," Bill said.
His mom spent six months in jail in 2007 over a deportation issue. His father, who had two college degrees, delivered pizzas while his children were growing up, because his student visa wouldn't allow him to get a higher-paying job.
His parents came to the U.S. in the mid-1980s to attend college in Kentucky. Their children - Bill and his sister, Neynsia - were born in this country and are U.S. citizens. In 2000, Bill said, the family was called to Atlanta for a deportation hearing. Bill's parents asked for political asylum.
The family heard nothing for six years. But in 2006, they learned their appeal had been denied. They appealed again but lost.
Ivo flew back to Cameroon in April 2007. Agnes, not wanting to leave her children, tried to circumvent the order but was caught and jailed before being sent to Cameroon.
Meanwhile, Bill tried to live a normal life as a student.
His parents had given their children a choice of remaining in the family home, living with friends in Fort Mill, S.C., or staying with friends in Kentucky. Bill and his sister tried living in Fort Mill but returned to their home after a few months.
"For more than a year, I didn't tell anyone what was happening," Bill said. "Every time I would talk about it, I'd start crying. And I always try to be cheerful, to be upbeat. I couldn't allow myself to make anyone else miserable."
Gradually, a few teachers learned the truth.
Tubbs and Communities In Schools, an organization aimed at preventing dropouts, provided extra counseling and help in landing college scholarships.
English teacher Chiquita Boyd, knowing Bill didn't have a printer at home, allowed him to e-mail his essays so she could print them. Social studies teacher Erica Gipson became a special friend, helping Bill with his senior exit essay and much more.
"People rallied around Bill, but ... he was responsible for all he accomplished," Gipson said.
Bill played three years of varsity basketball and was the team's captain his senior year. He also was the cross-country team's captain, a member of the school gospel choir, treasurer of the student body, and a second-place finisher in the Communities In Schools public speaking contest.
He also excelled in the classroom, and the college scholarship offers came. He accepted a full ride to Georgetown College in Kentucky, where a friend of his father is president.
He says he is happy his father, who now has a job in the financial services industry, is here to see it. He hopes his mother - whom he last saw on Mother's Day 2007 while she was in jail - can overcome immigration issues and return one day.
He also hopes he can get a medical degree and eventually build a clinic in his family's village in Cameroon.
"What happened to me is something God wanted to happen," he said. "I wouldn't be the person I am today if I hadn't faced those challenges."
By Steve Lyttle, The Charlotte Observer; Photo by Steve Lyttle, The Charlotte Observer