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From Madagascar to Spokane: A community college graduate's path to university success

[SPOKANE, Wash.] Motivated by his family, his faith, and the desire to escape generational poverty, Tongasoa Jefferson Julianot Rakotomalala has become a force of change in every community he has touched.

When he arrived in Spokane in September 2022, Rakotomalala felt a lifetime of aspirations and dreams be brought to life in his new, but temporary, home.

With roots that lie over 10,000 miles away in the small village of Moramanga, Madagascar, Rakotomalala’s opportunity to pursue his general associate degree at Spokane Falls Community College seemed as something of a miracle.

“The chances of me being here are less than two percent… I’m so grateful here at Spokane Falls because I’m living my dreams,” he said. “Every place is considered my second home, especially Spokane, but I wanted to experience more things and learn more things in life and to view communities. This has given me the bridge to connect me to my future goals.”

After graduating from high school in 2019, Jefferson surrounded himself with friends and community members who had gone to the United States, reassuring him that he could chase the same dream.

Along the way, Rakotomalala found himself running up against many obstacles while navigating his way into the U.S. higher education system. He was rejected from the first handful of universities he applied to due to a lack of English proficiency.

No matter, his commitment to bringing new knowledge back to Moramanga someday outweighed the trials and tribulations.

With the help of a good friend, Rakotomalala applied to SFCC where he is now putting the finishing touches on his degree and was a semifinalist of the Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship Award that would give Rakotomalala access to financial support for two to three years, advising and college planning.

“The first time I sent the application I didn’t have all the full requirements, but SFCC helped me a lot, especially Amber,” he said. “She helped me take a big jump. With a lot of lessons, guidance, and faith I ended up here and it’s something good.”

Assistant Dean of Global Education and Strategic Partnerships Amber McKenzie began her position at Community Colleges of Spokane a short while before Rakotomalala made his way to Spokane and the two have created quite the dynamic duo.

“Jefferson was one of the first students I interacted with at SFCC, and I just loved him,” McKenzie said. “He’s always so willing to do what other students will not and that’s why I find him so remarkable. The gap between where he’s from and how far he has come usually takes at least three generations.”

Rakotomalala won’t be heading back to Moramanga just yet. After graduation in June, he will be attending one of the many universities he applied to. He has been accepted to Whitworth University, Grand Canyon University, Virginia Union University, Baylor University and Hope College, but he is still waiting for a reply from the top of his list Harvard University.

His academic pursuits consume much of his free time, but Rakotomalala’s second priority is giving back to his communities.

He is President of the International Student Club, an avid volunteer within his church community and has even started a youth group. He also still manages to find volunteer opportunities back in Moramanga, whether that means supporting virtually or going back to Madagascar for a summer.

Although what is in the future is not always certain, for Rakotomalala, it is surely bright.

“My success is not for me and me alone,” he said. “It’s for all of the people who supported me and for my mom. None of my family graduated high school and my mom never attended middle school so that means they’re living in poverty. My situation is that I fight my way and that’s a blessing for me because despite any hard, challenging trials, I hold up my faith and believe that everything will be okay.”

Posted On

5/13/2024 10:43:18 AM

Posted By

Kayla Friedrich



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