Kwasi Enin's faith, work ethic keys to academic success, family says

Kwasi Enin, 17, was accepted to all eight Ivy League schools and his life has become a little complicated since then. On Thursday, April 3, 2014, he was juggling interviews, school work, and a trip to the “Late Show with David Letterman.” (Credit: Newsday / Chuck Fadely)

When Kwasi Enin of Shirley walks through the halls of William Floyd High School, his classmates give him a wide smile and reach to shake his hand.

The 17-year-old scholar-athlete's acceptance to all eight Ivy League schools on March 27 brought him international recognition and instant rock-star status in the corridors of his soon-to-be alma mater.

But for his family, it was confirmation of the effort behind his many nights of studying, the support of his relatives and church, and the work ethic his parents have sought to instill.


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"I told him, 'You can't get anything lower than a 95,' " said Ebenezer Enin, Kwasi's father, a nurse who graduated from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Accra, the capital of Ghana.

"Anything less is not acceptable to us," he said, referring to his wife, Doreen, also a nurse.

Ebenezer Enin said he spent many hours teaching his son math and science from grade school through high school. He and his wife were strict, he said. And his son, who is set on becoming a physician, has always been obedient, a caring big brother to his sister, Adwoa, 14, and a straight-A student.

Kwasi Enin was born in Amityville and lived in Bay Shore before the family settled in Shirley 10 years ago. He has visited his parents' homeland in Ghana many times, his father said, adding that the experience in a developing nation made a strong impression.

"Maybe that's what motivates him to do well," Ebenezer Enin said, referring to limited opportunities in the West African country that was an inspiration to other independence movements when, under Nkrumah's leadership, it cast off colonialism in 1957, sparking a domino effect on the continent.

"We taught him to be a leader, not a follower," he said of Kwasi, adding that he raised his son the way he himself was reared. "We taught him to take advantage of the opportunities here. We are industrious and hard workers."

That ethic has Enin rising at 6 a.m. to drive to his school in Mastic Beach and juggle a schedule that includes four Advanced Placement classes in science and math as well as after-school activities.

His typical day begins with orchestra and, six or seven periods later, ends with environmental science or physical education. Then there are club meetings or track practice -- his events are the shot put and discus -- or rehearsal for a musical in which he is performing.

"We've been encouraging him to be an all-around student," the father said. "He has been trained to be a higher achiever right from when he was a kid . . . That's the bottom line."

Kwasi Enin has an eclectic mix of talents and interests.

In addition to Youth in Government Club, he volunteers in the radiology department of Stony Brook University Hospital, plays viola in the school orchestra and is in the youth and bell choirs at United Methodist Church of Bay Shore.

"He has used his talents for the glory of God, participating in many church activities," said the Rev. Dr. Sungmu Lee, pastor of the church, who has known Kwasi Enin for nine years.

"Kwasi is not spectacular but humble," Lee said. "He is not fluent but wise. He is gentle but strong inside and patient."

Enin said church and music have played significant roles in his life.

"Church teaches you discipline, faith," he said. "Many members of the church have come up to congratulate me and thank me for, I guess, using all the principles they've taught since I was a child and following through."

He wrote in his Common Application essay to the colleges that while his career ambition is medicine, music "has become the spark of my intellectual curiosity."

He added: "I would not have the admiration of my teachers and friends if I had not let the charisma of music persuade me to become a performer in my school, town and state."

Enin has until May 1 to choose a school from among the eight Ivies and four others; He also was accepted by Duke University, Stony Brook University, Binghamton University and SUNY Geneseo. He plans to visit each campus -- even the ones he already has seen.

His academic performance has made him the subject of interviews by dozens of local, national and international news organizations, including the BBC's World Service, over the past week. He appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America" and helped deliver the "Top Ten" list on "Late Show With David Letterman."

But Enin said he was most touched by the high-fives on social media from his peers -- teenagers who wrote in saying he has become to them an inspiring role model.

"I do appreciate all of the support from people across the world," he said. "I learned more about being not a leader, but almost a symbol, in a way, to people."

That's how he looks in the halls of William Floyd High.

Barbara Butler, the school's principal, noticed an outpouring of support from students who are as proud of Enin as she is.

"Kids will want to shake his hand, people he has never met," she said. "What I appreciate most is the kids truly recognize what a great achievement it is and that they respect him so much and that Kwasi himself is so humble and modest about it."

Enin advised people to have "passion" for what they do.

"I had many, many people shouting out and referencing me and saying how they have this new drive, this motivation to accomplish their dreams, mostly in education," he said. "Just seeing that just feels good for me, in the sense that I am helping people."

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