by Donna Childs
A Few Facts About Melaku
Home library: North Portland LibraryMost influential book: Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story by Gregg Lewis
Favorite browsing section in the library: Science and science fiction
Other reading interests: Likes to read fiction on long bus rides
Although it is apparently a myth that humans only use a small portion of our brainpower, it seems clear that Melaku Arega uses more of his than most of us. Melaku came to the US from Ethiopia in 2009, four short years ago; yet in that time he has taught himself English, graduated at the top of his high school class, and been accepted to Johns Hopkins University with a Gates Millennium Scholarship. He transferred high schools after his sophomore year in search of more rigorous science courses, and with the help of dedicated and generous teachers, he taught himself AP Calculus and Physics and earned the highest possible grade on both of the AP exams.
Melaku volunteers at the North Portland Library in the Summer Reading program. Every Saturday the 18-year old Melaku and his three siblings--aged 11, 15, and 17--walk over to the library to help with the Summer Reading for young readers. They help children (or their parents in the case of the very young) keep track of books read during the summer, so that they can earn prizes and move to the next reading level. Before the Summer Reading program, Melaku volunteered every other weekend, five hours at a time, shelving books, a great way to learn about what the library offered.
Melaku has been making the short walk from his home to the North Portland library since he came to the US. Talking about the resources available at the library—books to borrow, reference material such as college and SAT prep guides, computers and internet, he said “I came here all the time!” Eyes alight, he talked about books he found, from using Harry Potter to learn English to exploring science fiction works such as The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy or the Hunger Games, to being inspired to find his life’s work by Gifted Hands, a portrait of African-American neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson. “And it’s all free!”
Melaku is a charming, modest and unassuming young man who will continue using all of his brain, as well as his delightful personality, focused hard work and determination, and love of learning in college and beyond. His family braved all the hardships of leaving their home to come to a new place with new customs and language so their children could have more opportunities. Melaku is honoring that journey by taking advantage of all that is offered here.