When Abilene High School senior Deborah Musonera walked across the stage last on May 28 during the school’s 134th commencement ceremony, it marked the culmination of a journey that began in Nairobi, Kenya, wound its way through New York, and landed in Abilene.

And soon it will continue to Durham, N.C., when she continues her education at Duke University.

As the youngest of 10 children to father Evariste and mother Esperance Musonera, Deborah is the last of seven siblings to graduate from Abilene High. All nine of her brothers and sisters – including one who was adopted just four years ago – have or will attend college, which was very important to their father.

“My dad always says that the only two things we need in our lives are God and an education,” Deborah said. “Those things have made me who I am and are the foundation of what I am.  Going to college is something that my dad has always felt is so important, and we’ve all been able to do that.”

It’s so essential to Evariste, who pastors the New Hope Fellowship Church in Abilene, that he is working on his doctorate at Hardin-Simmons University and is on track to earn that degree in December.

The Musoneras learned the value of hard work while living in Kenya where Esperance would sew to earn money to put food on the family table, while Evariste worked to try and secure travel visas for each member of the family to make it to the United States.

“We didn’t have much in Kenya,” Deborah recalled. “I don’t remember much because I was so young, but I’ve heard the stories of how hard it was on everyone. Multiple people were sleeping in one bed; we were just trying to survive. But it never felt like that because our parents – in every situation – always made sure we were good. They always had an optimistic attitude and taught us to be grateful for everything we have because there are always people worse off than us.

“My parents have made such an impact on my life because they always made God a priority in our lives,” she said. “We’ve always had to work hard because we’ve been taught that nothing was going to be given to us. And because we respect them and respect their wishes, we’re going to follow that path. I am where I am today because of the way I was raised.”

Deborah, who finished No. 8 in her graduating class, is involved in community outreach projects and participated in several activities during her four years at Abilene High. She even started a club, Vocal Justice, that is a safe place for minorities, or for others who don’t feel they belong, to have their voices heard.

One person at Abilene High who has been through a lot with the Musonera family is Social Studies teacher Jenny Miller, who taught three of the Musonera siblings at AHS, including Deborah.

“There are no words to truly describe the Musonera family, from the first time I met them at Pioneer Drive Baptist Church, there was an instant connection,” Miller said. “Each child has the same positive attitude, determination, drive, and humility. I have been blessed beyond words by their kindness and love for one another. They are a close family that supports one another. This family is truly living the American dream as I was taught, that a strong work ethic, commitment, and responsibility will help you to succeed.”

Deborah’s attitude is infectious among both students and staff, and her willingness to do what she can for others has made her a popular figure on campus.

“My heart smiles every day she walked in the room,” Miller said. “Her enthusiasm, energy, and contagious smile made my day a better day. Deborah is modest, compassionate, accepting, and genuine. How is she different? She is full of life, and it shows through her actions. I have been blessed beyond words by her. This tiny young woman has one of the biggest hearts I have ever seen. My love for her and this family will forever be in my heart.”

And now Deborah is headed to Durham, N.C., sight unseen to study computer programming at Duke, one of the nation’s great academic institutions.

“The main reason I chose Duke is, of course, because of the academic rigor,” Deborah said. “I wanted that. I wanted to be at a place where professors will engage with you in small groups, are passionate, and will challenge you. I wanted to be part of that right away. The second reason is because of the school’s emphasis on community involvement. I’ve already found some clubs I want to join when I get to campus because I want to have the chance to help. I want to be somewhere where I feel like I’m making a difference for the better, and, hopefully, making a positive impact on the lives of others.

“And basketball was part of the decision, and I can’t say it wasn’t,” she said of the Blue Devils’ men’s basketball program. “That’s a bonus. Being around that vibe and being a fan of such a well-known team will be a great part of the experience.”

And what about after Duke?

“I’ve always thought about going back to Kenya,” Deborah said. “I’m not sure if I want to make it a living situation or just go back and do some volunteering there. It’s in my plan to go back and help those who helped my family so much. I’ve always believed going back to my roots would be so important because they made me who I am today.”