Seth Opoku-Yeboah was one of 641 students to graduate from Osbourn Park High School last month. But unlike his classmates — for that matter, unlike any other graduate in Prince William County this year — he never missed a day of school.
From kindergarten through his senior year, Opoku-Yeboah, 18, of Manassas, maintained perfect attendance.
According to Prince William school officials, this feat is very rare. It’s not so unusual for a student to have perfect attendance for a year, but an entire academic career is almost unheard of, they said.
“Seth is one in a million,” said Heather Davids, an English teacher at Osbourn Park and the sponsor of the school’s forensics speech and debate club, of which Opoku-Yeboah was a member.
Although most students miss school occasionally for a cold, a doctor’s appointment or senior skip day, Opoku-Yeboah has always put school first. A bad cold in the seventh grade didn’t keep him home.
“I pushed myself through those three or four days,” he said. “I [knew I] wouldn’t be productive at home, so I might as well take advantage of the academic opportunities.”
So what drives a student to perfection? Opoku-Yeboah credits his parents, both of whom are from Ghana. They came to the United States in 1992.
“I was doing it for them and fulfilling their promise of a better education for my siblings and I,” he said.
As the eldest of five children, “he sees himself as the one to pave the way in America,” Davids said.
His parents, Nack Opoku-Yeboah and Florence Mensah, did not finish high school in Ghana.
“This is why they came to this country,” Opoku-Yeboah said. “To see me succeed.”
Mensah told her son: “You are so smart. You are lucky. You’ve got to take [school] serious.”
“It’s like heaven to me,” she said of school in the United States. In Ghana, people have to pay to go to school and pay to take a bus to get there, Mensah said. For many people, school is too expensive.
Opoku-Yeboah remembers receiving an award in the fifth grade for perfect attendance. In eighth grade, he received a standing ovation at a school awards assembly for his achievement. By his freshman year, he wanted it to continue through graduation.
“It’s my inner competitive drive,” he said.
“He never loses sight of the big picture. That’s what makes him special,” Davids said.
Opoku-Yeboah knew he was going to have perfect attendance but he didn’t let that hold him back from participating in competitions and sports, she said, even though that sometimes meant he had to make tough choices.
As co-captain of the soccer team, he missed the first game this season because the team had to leave early to travel to the game, and he didn’t want to miss school.
“That was pretty bad,” Opoku-Yeboah said. His teammates “just laughed.”
In addition to playing soccer, Opoku-Yeboah was president of the Invisible Children’s Club, which works to raise awareness about child soldiers in Uganda, editor-in-chief of the school newspaper and a member of the National Honor Society, Model U.N. and the speech club.
As a member of the speech club, he made it to the state tournament as a freshman and advanced to the national competition his junior and senior years.
“Everything I was involved in, I was passionate about,” he said.
Of all the awards, Opoku-Yeboah said the one that means the most is one he received at graduation last month. The teachers at Osbourn Park selected Opoku-Yeboah for the annual Lipscomb Award, which is given to a senior who has shown outstanding leadership, scholarship and loyalty.
Opoku-Yeboah will spend this summer volunteering for President Obama’s campaign and interning for Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.). He will attend the College of William and Mary in the fall, where he plans to study economics and international relations. He will be the first person in his family to go to college.
He’s not sure what he wants to do after college, but he definitely wants to pursue a career that will allow him to help others.
“He deserves whatever good things come to him,” Davids said. “He will do good things for the world.”
As for his siblings — Isaac, 15, Priscilla, 13, Moses, 12, and Promise, 7, — so far they are all on the same path of perfect attendance.