Graduate Mersha Kisiel: From an orphanage in Ethiopia to finding his home at NAU

Kisiel in Ethopia

May 3, 2019

By the age of six, Mersha Bayu Kisiel had lost both his parents.

After his father’s death, he and his siblings were forced to move eight hours southeast—from the Gojjam region of Ethiopia to the country’s capital, Addis Ababa—to live with their aunt. For two years, his aunt sacrificed all she could to provide for her nieces and nephews, but it wasn’t enough. She had to give them up for adoption.

Kisiel was sent an orphanage in the city, where he would remain until fate found him a family three years later. Out of the four million orphans in Ethiopia (200 of which at his orphanage), the Arizona couple looking to adopt chose him.

“I was beyond ecstatic to find out that I was being adopted by a wonderful family from America, though I knew that would mean a completely different life,” he said. “Moving to a country with a new language, food, culture, family and atmosphere would not be easy.”

With his new family in hand, he embraced the change and moved to Phoenix.

Kisiel (left) poses with his adoptive parents and brother.

He started high school, made friends, ran track and field and excelled academically. Then, came time for college—something he hadn’t even considered in his wildest dreams.

With the help of her parents, he narrowed it down to two schools: University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University.

“I set up visits to both places and I happened to visit NAU first. After visiting the campus and meeting people, I fell in love. I knew that I would fit in, and the people I met all seemed to care about students and student success.  At the end of the visit, I told my mom to cancel the visit to U of A—I knew I wanted to be a Lumberjack.”

Like most college experiences, Kisiel had ups and downs. At times, he felt overwhelmed by his workload and called his mother in tears, looking for words of affirmation and encouragement.

“As difficult as college was at some points, I was determined to finish and finish successfully. I want to make those people that love and care about me, who sacrificed everything for me to be here, proud. For some, a college degree might not mean much, but to me, it is everything.”

Kisiel, who is graduating with a degree in fitness wellness, is the first in his biological family to attend an institute of higher education, let alone graduate.

He plans to be a health coach and earn a master’s degree in public health or exercise physiology, but not before traveling to his home country to visit his friends and family and thank his aunt in person.

“She still hates herself to this day for being forced to put me up for adoption, but what she does not understand is that because of her, new doors and opportunities opened up for me. I would not be where I am today if it was not for her.”

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Carly Banks | NAU Communications
(928) 523-5582 | carly.banks@nau.edu