Alumni Spotlight: Yafiet

As a second-year medical student at Howard University College of Medicine, Higher Achievement alum Yafiet Gojela is living out a dream he first envisioned for himself in middle school. Yafiet’s life was shaped on the journey from middle school to medical school by hard work, supportive community, and access to opportunities along the way.  

Yafiet grew up in a predominantly Black and brown community in Alexandria, Virginia, raised by two hard-working immigrant parents. “At the time I was busy hanging out with friends, playing basketball, pulling pranks on people,” says Yafiet. “I wasn’t getting in much trouble and my grades weren’t bad, but I wasn’t trying my best. My focus was hanging with my friends and having fun.” As a middle school student, Yafiet was beginning to make decisions that would direct the path of his life.

Yafiet heard about Higher Achievement from a friend and joined his 6th-grade year. It was during his years at Higher Achievement that he began to think about his future and focus on his academics. “Higher Achievement helped me learn the importance of education and mentorship. I was still figuring things out in middle school and did not take school very seriously.”   

At Higher Achievement, Yafiet built up his academic skills and thrived in a community of high expectations and encouragement. “My favorite event was the Olympics of the Mind. It was great seeing hundreds of kids from all around the DMV area competing in scholarly events,” remembers Yafiet. “They did a great job making us passionate about the program while also competing in educational events. I still remember the great feeling after the Alexandria center won my 7th-grade year.”

Yafiet read and discussed articles with a mentor weekly at Higher Achievement. “I hated reading growing up, but my mentor encouraged me to read weekly. These meetings exposed me to deeper analytical reading and helped build my confidence for excelling in English” says Yafiet. 

One of his most memorable experiences at Higher Achievement was the exposure to colleges. “I vividly remember our trip to Penn State,” recalls Yafiet. “It was my first time on a college campus, and I was amazed. The campus was enormous, and we got to see their cafeteria, stadium, classrooms, and even a farm. I was amazed at the strong college community that had every resource I could imagine within walking distance.” 

Exposure to all that college had to offer was a motivator for Yafiet. He knew paying for college would be a challenge, and his future success in high school could set him up for scholarships that would open doors of opportunity.  

“My dad was always encouraging me to do better,” says Yafiet. “I was the oldest of four kids growing up, so I took a lot of initiative.” At school and at Higher Achievement, Yafiet learned about dual enrollment, honors, and AP classes he could take in high school. 

Yafiet threw himself into his studies in high school. “There was a college and career center at my school that I would visit every day. My counselor, Ms. Feldman, helped me a lot,” says Yafiet. “My friends and I also competed with each other to see who could get the highest GPA. I used my competitive nature from growing up playing basketball and competing in things like Olympics of the Mind to strive for excellence. My friends and I would check in with each other every quarter to see who had the highest GPA. We would say things like: ‘Who do you all think will get accepted into an Ivy League? Who do you think will get a full ride?’” 

Yafiet’s hard work paid off, and he graduated from Alexandria City High School (then T.C. Williams) in 2015 in the top 3% of his class with a 4.3 GPA and a full ride to the University of Virginia. He was also recognized as a Quest Bridge Scholar.

At the University of Virginia, he majored in neuroscience on a premedical track with a minor in social entrepreneurship. He was the president of the Eritrean Ethiopian Student Association and also helped launch HoosFirst, a program to bring more socioeconomic diversity to UVA. After graduation, Yafiet worked as a medical scribe at Inova Fairfax Emergency department and later as a medical assistant at a COVID clinic to strengthen his application for medical school.  

“I’ve always wanted to be a doctor, and middle school was when the spark came. My family and I immigrated to the United States from Eritrea and the health structure there is lacking,” says Yafiet. Growing up, he was told stories of the challenges of the medical system. Yafiet’s dad lost his sister after she wasn’t able to get adequate medical care at the hospital. These experiences ignited Yafiet’s passion for making a difference through health care. “When I worked in the ER for six months during COVID, it was a very challenging experience. I really enjoyed that doctors have the opportunity to help people in their most vulnerable states.” 

Yafiet is realizing his middle school ambitions and making a positive impact in the community. Looking back, he recognizes the enormous impact high school, and the preparation during his 6th-8th grade years, made on his life. “High school is so important. It opened so many doors, including college scholarships that saved me around $200,000, that paid for my living expenses, my tuition, dining hall food, and even a laptop. Those scholarships also allowed me to experience new cultures by studying abroad in Nicaragua and St. Kitts & Nevis in the Caribbean—all paid for by the school: including hotel, food, boat rides, and many other fun experiences. College allowed me to get a job easily. It’s made my life so much easier.”

Yafiet credits self-discipline, high personal goals, and a supportive group of parents and friends with helping him achieve his dreams. “I am deeply grateful to Higher Achievement for igniting my motivation during the formative years of middle school, equipping me with tools to excel in high school. This pivotal period laid the foundation for numerous opportunities that have continued to shape my journey for years to come.”

For scholars like Yafiet, opportunities and relationships during the formative middle school years are life-changing. Higher Achievement’s academic enrichment, mentoring, college and career exposure, and social-emotional development all contribute to a launch pad for success where young people can leverage their talents and achieve their dreams.