“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
In 1995, just one year after South Africa's first democratic elections, I enrolled as an engineering student at a previously white-only university. From the beginning I was told that I could not succeed as an engineer because I was a black woman and did not have the intelligence to lead. Each day, I faced remarks about the inferiority of blacks and women in science. These experiences threatened to shatter my values and aspirations.

Growing up my parents taught me to treat each person equally, irrespective of their status. But as an immigrant from Ghana in South Africa's apartheid homelands since 1986, I witnessed various forms of discrimination against my neighbors. While I empathized with them, I didn't fully understand their dilemma because I had not consciously experienced discrimination.

During my university experience, for the first time I was made to feel underprivileged. Yet I overcame my anger and developed friendships with students of all colors. By doing so, I made some of my peers more willing to interact in a multi-racial community. By becoming the first black female engineering graduate at this university, I showed that race or gender cannot be a measure of capability.

As a leader, I will promote equality by continuing to break boundaries and build bridges. By creating economic opportunities for those less fortunate, particularly African women, I hope to help shape a world where everyone has the opportunity to reach their potential….a world where people are judged by their minds and hearts and not what they look like on the outside.

— Nana Quagraine