Senior Hanna Oliha shares the secrets central to her success
By Anonymous Contributing Writer
Friday, April 19, 2002
Let me introduce you to an amazing senior of the class of 2002: Hannah Oluwakemi Oliha. She was born in Lagos, Nigeria. Her Nigerian ancestry comes from both the Yoruba tribe on her mother's side and the Bendalite tribe on her father's side. Oliha has three siblings: Gabe, who attends Northwestern in Roseville, Emmanuel and Sarah. She describes her family life as collective. "I was able to see extended family just as much as immediate family. We always had a sense of togetherness and solidarity," said Oliha. At the age of five, Oliha's family moved to London, England. When asked why her family decided to move so far away she replied, "To get a better life. For many Africans, it was a dream to move to the west. If you had a chance to leave, you left." Her father's ministry began in England as the assistant pastor of New Wine Church. Nine years later, Oliha's father received a job as a computer analyst and they moved to America. Her father helped to form a sister church in Minneapolis on University Ave. and became pastor of New Wine Church in America. Oliha's first impressions of her new American home were instantly concerned with the lack of discipline that her peers seemed to have. "I remember seeing all the cars in the parking lot at school and thinking that the school had a lot of teachers, only to find out that those cars belonged to the students. One guy's hair was all over his head with a comb stuck in it. The kids just seemed like adults and they were bigger than the kids were in England. Also the overall disrespect for authority was a huge difference." Oliha attended John F. Kennedy Senior High School in Bloomington. Her first impressions of St. Olaf included a general feeling of loneliness. "I was the only black in the whole dorm. I didn't think it would bother me much since I was always raised in predominately white areas. Getting to know the girls in my corridor on a personal level was different from what I had ever experienced before. I often felt like I had to hide who I was," she explained. Her freshman year was a learning experience in addition to a trying one. "I had to find myself alone in order to find myself. My father said that becoming who I was created to be would have to be done in the quiet." Oliha admitted that "most of her learning had taken place outside of the classroom." In addition to her personal growth, Oliha showcased her abilities and became involved in various school activities and extracurriculars. Oliha's involvement included being president of her first-year dorm, serving on the board of Regent's Student Committee, the Collegiate Chorale, president of the Gospel Club, CUBE and Harambe for which she has held the president's position this year. The upcoming Harambe Conference is being planned under Ms. Oliha's leadership. Last year, she was a Junior Counselor in Mohn and this year, she contributed similar qualities as an Resident Assistant in Larson. "I took on many leadership positions and this is where I found my voice. Unless you challenge and stretch yourself, you are not going to grow." In spite of what Oliha admits, she is a phenomenal singer and speaker. Oliha also enjoys writing poetry. Her ability to get everyone involved at the gospel concerts last year was introspective of her giving spirit. Her loving and influential personality could make anyone smile and feel good. As one wise parent once said, "our experiences make us who we are today." This is definitely evident of Oliha's story and her contributions to the St. Olaf community. Religion and the church has made a profound impact on Oliha's life. "I would not have made it through school if I had not gone to church every Sunday and developed a relationship with God. It gave me a firm foundation and enabled me to stay positive. I was able to stay happy even when things weren't perfect." Oliha will graduate with a degree in Religion with a concentration in ARMS. She also has a Center for Integrative Studies major. It is entitled Cultural and Political Interactions: Africa and the West. When asked what her plans in life are, Oliha responded, "I just want to empower people. I want to do whatever God wants me to do. Fulfilling my purpose for being here is what is most important. Pulling the puzzle pieces together&what we want and desire in life is our calling." Her advice for future Oles is to "follow your heart." She adds, " The world will always have something to say about what you're supposed to do. Forget about what's expected of you."