Menlee Mansue has always had a desire to do the right thing and help other people.
"Even when I was young, I felt it was my responsibility to stick up for someone who couldn’t defend himself," he said. "I still feel that way. Maybe I can make a difference."
Mansue came here with his parents at age 4 during civil war and genocide in his native Liberia. His father worked for an airline and the family had planned a trip to the United States. During their visit, they received word the airport at home had been closed and they couldn’t return. They received asylum and settled in Providence, where Menlee said he was an underperforming student.
"I was trying to find out how to navigate American culture," he said. "I just wanted to get along, but in getting along I was not being a scholar."
He was told he was a natural leader, but he didn’t see it. Going to college was expected of him, but after he graduated from Classical High School, he took a year off and worked three jobs.
He enrolled at Rhode Island College, but left because he couldn’t afford the cost. He had attained U.S. citizenship, but not until after the financial aid deadline. He returned to work.
"A friend told me, ‘You have to go to school. You have to enroll.’ That changed my whole life," he said. "I was really depressed about having to leave school and he encouraged me to just take some classes."
Then he met Cristian Potter, a 2007 CCRI graduate who is now attending Brown University on a full scholarship, through a mutual friend. Potter told Mansue about the many programs at the college, and he enrolled. "I was surprised at how many opportunities the college offered. I kept saying I didn’t know they had that program or that program."
Mansue wants to share what he has learned about college with others. "Now I speak to anyone I can about college because what I say could stick with them the way what my friend said inspired me," he said. "It is better for me to try to be a light. I always wanted to have some positive influence."
And he’s certainly done that at his alma mater, Classical, where he and other alumni visit and speak with students, encouraging them and inviting them to ask him questions about going to college.
Mansue said along the way, he realized that his family back in Liberia never will have the opportunities he has and that he should make the best of it. Now he’s graduating with a 3.85 GPA and hopes to follow in Potter’s footsteps to Brown, where he wants to study economics and political science with hopes of attaining a law degree in the future.
Not only is he a scholar, including membership in Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year colleges, but he has proven right all of those who said he was a natural leader: Mansue recently received the Edward and Lucy D. Medeiros Scholarship, which recognizes graduating students who have given their time, talent and energy and demonstrated leadership in the promotion of student activities at the college.
Reflecting on his educational journey, Mansue realizes it could have gone a different route. "I see people who went down a different path – a path that I could have gone down," he said. "Education is the way to really uplift the community. Your hard work might not take you where you dreamed you’d be, but it will always pay off."