Graduating Yale Seniors with Exceptional Stories to Tell

Among the seniors who will graduate from Yale College on May 27 are several who have achieved extraordinary things-even by Yale standards-in some cases despite daunting challenges.

Among the seniors who will graduate from Yale College on May 27 are several who have achieved extraordinary things-even by Yale standards-in some cases despite daunting challenges.

Nana Akua Asafu-Agyei came to Yale from Ghana. Her father died before she was born, leaving her mother to raise five children on her own. Because of the family’s financial straits, Nana attended Yale on a full scholarship. Despite many cultural hurdles, Nana pursued a double major (African studies and biomedical engineering) and will be going to Yale Medical School next year. She has been active on campus, serving as the head Freshman Counselor in her residential college (Ezra Stiles), and as a member of the Executive Committee and the Dean’s Advisory Committee, among others. She can be reached at 203-436-0158 or nana.asafu-agyei@yale.edu

Matan Koch of New Milford, Connecticut, is graduating from Yale at 20 years of age and heading to Harvard Law School in the fall. His achievement is all the more remarkable because he is quadriplegic, born with cerebral palsy so severe that he needs an attendant 24 hours a day to assist him with dressing, bathing and other basic activities.
According to Judith York, the director of the Office for Students with Disabilities, “Matan may well be the most extremely disabled student we’ve ever had at Yale. He has educated this campus and had a significant impact on improving accessibility.”
Despite his physical limitations, Matan is independent, managing his own academic work, hiring his own care-giver and following his interests and inclinations. He is also an outspoken advocate for the disabled. The son of a Reform rabbi, he majored in religious studies. In addition to his required senior thesis, which was on Judaism and disability, he researched and wrote a second senior thesis on the history of people with disabilities at Yale. He can be reached at 436-0555 or matan.koch@yale.edu

Nicole E. Derbyshire of Brentwood, Long Island, was born with diastrophic dwarfism: her torso is of average size but her legs and arms are tiny. She stands 3’6” and uses a motorized wheelchair to get around campus. Despite the challenges she has faced all her life, she is fiercely independent and upbeat. She majored in sociology at Yale. She shares a specially adapted bathroom with Matan Koch. She can be reached at 436-0557 or nicole.derbyshire@yale.edu

Birkir Gunnarsson hails from Iceland. Blind since childhood, he gets around with remarkable independence and without a guide dog. He has pursued a double major in computer science and economics, and will work in the financial world after graduation. He can be reached at 425-891-1977 or birkir.gunnarsson@yale.edu

Vanessa Herald of Pasadena, CA, was recently honored with an Elm-Ivy Award for her efforts to strengthen town-gown ties between Yale and New Haven. As an undergraduate, she chaired the Thomas W. Ford Community Outreach Committee for the Yale Athletics Department, and during the past two summers worked for the Footebridge literacy program for elementary school children in New Haven, as a President’s Public Service Fellow. A scholar-athlete, she played varsity volleyball. Her major was linguistics. She plans to attend the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOELS) next year. She can be reached at 203-675-9957 or 203-436-2942.

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Media Contact

Gila Reinstein: gila.reinstein@yale.edu, 203-432-1325