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Plane Crash Survivor Optimistic for Future After Graduation
5/4/2015

Kechi OkwuchiKechi Okwuchi is optimistic and a firm believer in the unknown, and she is here to tell others that “It’s okay to not know what the next step is.”

Okwuchi, an economics major and marketing minor, said her decision to apply to be the University of St. Thomas student commencement speaker was impulsive. Dr. Roger Morefield, associate professor of economics, encouraged her to pen her thoughts from throughout the course of her academic journey at UST.

“I realized the student speaker had to be someone, a student, and I realized that I have just as good of a chance as anyone else, so I thought, ‘You know, I’m just going to actually do this,’” Okwuchi said. “

Okwuchi joins more than 1,000 graduates to celebrate the 65th Commencement Ceremony at 10 a.m. on May 16, 2015 at NRG Arena, located at 1 NRG Park.

Morefield said he was honored to have Okwuchi as a student, and knew she would be a perfect representation of an ideal UST student.

“Kechi is the kind of student every professor hopes to have in their class—her work ethic is magnificent,” Morefield said. “I think her speech is going to reach out to students in a way that’ll inspire them. She’s been through a lot, but her attitude is just so positive, and she’s an ideal student and a good representation of UST’s dedication to building leaders of faith and character.”

One Plane Ride, 90 Minutes, a Lifetime of Loss

Kechi OkwuchiOkwuchi grew up in Aba, a city near Port Harcourt in Nigeria, and attended Loyola Jesuit College—a respected boarding school and college preparatory in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. Her plan was to attend the London School of Economics. She was young, bright, faithful and full of promise. Everything would go according to plan, so she thought.

Okwuchi and her friends were on their way home for the Christmas break. She was 16 and looking forward to going home for the holiday. The plane ride would be brief—90 minutes at most—then she and her friends would be home with their families.

Not long after the plane began its descent, it started to shake and rumble. The passengers were informed that it was turbulence, but a few passengers with a better view knew something was horrifically wrong. Okwuchi said all she remembers from that day are the screams of her friends and her praying, then the sound of crashing metal. Everything went black.

Okwuchi is one of the two survivors from a plane with approximately 107 people.

A Change in Plans

Okwuchi spent a year in South Africa receiving emergency medical treatment for burns on most of her body before she was brought to the Shriners Hospital in Galveston in 2007, where she finished her treatment.

Okwuchi was in the middle of 12th grade when she came to America, and had plans on attending the London School of Economics.

“Coming to America was never in my plan,” Okwuchi said. “I had reasons to go to London. I have family there and the LSE is a prestigious school, but once I decided to stay in America and I felt like I was ready to go back to school, I applied to the University of Houston, UST and Rice University.”

As a Christian, Okwuchi chose UST because of its small size and environment—she said it reminded her of home.

“I looked at other schools, but there was something about UST that really made me feel comfortable,” Okwuchi said. “To be honest, it even looks a lot like my old school, and I’ve missed that.”

During her time at UST, Okwuchi has been involved in Cameron School of Business events, the Celts Breakfast Club,  the International Student Association, job fairs, attended seminars on and off campus, and has been a tutor of writing and economics since spring 2014.

Okwuchi has options as to what she will do next, whether she will continue her education in a master’s program or start working. No matter what, she said believes that whatever happens will happen for the right reasons, and that no matter what, she will always make the most out of whatever situation she finds herself in.

“You’re still alive; you’re still here for a reason,” Okwuchi said. “There’s a certain fear in the unknown that we all face when we’re finished with school, but all those times we felt like it was the end, we made it through. There’s no reason why the next situation should break us. We’ve come this far, and we can definitely go further.”