by Graham Quinn
Eagle Editorial Board
Senior Leo Penny no longer attends St. Thomas.
In fact, he no longer attends any school in the United States. Penny now attends United World College Waterford-Kamhlaba, in Swaziland, Africa.
Yes, Africa. Almost 6000 miles across the world. Over a twelve hour flight away from all your friends and family. Disconnected from everything and everyone that you knew.
Many choose to go far away for college, but Africa for one’s senior year of high school is quite a stretch.
The school that Penny is attending is part of the United World College Program, which has schools around the world. Penny was one of only 50 Americans to be accepted to the program and one of 25 to be sent around the world.
Penny received a scholarship to go to Africa and also a scholarship to attend the college of his choice. Penny chose to go to Africa because he wanted to know the reason for all of the continent’s issues. He hopes to learn how to help the African people and hopefully put his knowledge to use one day.
“What better way to solve the conflict between Ethiopia and Somalia than by talking to people from each side as friends?” Penny said.
Penny has big and bright plans for his future. In Africa, he will be graduating from high school in two years and then head back to the United States for college.
“My top 3 are Yale, Air Force Academy and Georgia Tech,” Penny said. “My plan is to major in operations research and industrial engineering.”
Penny plans to go into the Air Force as soon as he can in order to pursue his dream career in aerospace. In aerospace, Penny hopes to help unite the world behind the effort of space colonization.
“It may seem like some crazy dream to you,” Penny said. “But if you consider how far the human race has come in the last 70 years, or even in the last 20 years, anything is possible.”
Because of Penny’s interest in aerospace, he recently had an internship with NASA. Thanks to the connections that he has made and the knowledge that he has learned, he has set the path to make his dreams a reality.
In addition to making the decision to move to Africa and deciding to work in aerospace, Penny demonstrated what it is to be a man for others.
He spent six weeks in Central America, in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. Penny volunteered to help a community of 400 people complete development projects in an impoverished neighborhood in Matagalpa. In addition to manual labor, he taught Nicaraguan elementary school children for two hours every day. He lived with a poor Nicaraguan family that was more than gracious to share what little they had with him.
Penny was humbled by the extreme, impoverished conditions of the people of the neighborhood.
“There was no running water, and I only ate meat once a week,” Penny said. “Our house was the size of a bathroom in America.”
Penny was very grateful for all the knowledge he learned, the people he met, and the experiences he had in Nicaragua. Penny will actually be visiting the United States in the near future in order to give a presentation to St. Thomas students about his experience in Nicaragua, and to inform students on a life changing opportunity.
“I would recommend this program to any St. Thomas student,” Penny said.
From helping the poor in Nicaragua to going into a completely new environment in Africa, Penny has experienced many new things and acquired information to pursue his dream career. He hopes to have a lasting impact on the world, and through his actions, he is on track to do so.