May 9, 2022

Mesa Student Johar Zuber’s Journey from self-proclaimed “Cow Herder” to College Graduate

By Beverly Fruto

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“Your hardest times often lead to the greatest moments of your life. Keep going. Tough situations build strong people in the end.” This quote by Roy Bennett has been a guiding principle for San Diego Mesa College student Johar Zuber. He will be graduating from Mesa in May 2022, but his path to college was far from conventional. 

Zuber was born in a remote rural area of Ethiopia called Meger, where subsistence agriculture is the predominant way of life. He came from a long line of farmers whose days were spent growing their food, raising livestock, and building their own homes. Men did most of the farming, while women took care of the children, maintained the homes, prepared the food, and pounded grains to turn them into flour. As a young boy, Zuber had many responsibilities, including herding cows and goats, washing clothes, and collecting firewood for cooking. But his most difficult task was fetching water for the family. Each morning he would wake up at 5:30 to start the trek to the water source, then carry a large jug of water back home. He had to bring home enough water for the family to use for bathing, cleaning, cooking, and of course, drinking. His daily walk was a six kilometer (3.7 mile) round trip that took about an hour and a half. 

Johar was encouraged to follow in the footsteps of his parents and grandparents, and spend his life as a farmer and herder. His grandfather used to tell him “Once in your life you need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman and a preacher. But every day, three times a day you need a farmer.” And that was the life that Zuber envisioned for himself. In fact, he aspired to have 100 cows of his own someday. 

His perspective on his future prospects began to change after a chance encounter with a friend while on one of his daily walks to fetch water. He saw this friend, who was attending school, reading out loud. Zuber had not been taught how to read at that point, and he told his parents that he wanted to also attend school. Although his family told him that they did not think schooling was needed, he was determined to convince them otherwise. He eventually was allowed to attend school and has continued on his academic journey to this day. Johar

Johar’s dedication to academics was recognized when he was awarded a scholarship to attend Alliant International University, San Diego Campus. At 29 years old he boarded an airplane for the first time and embarked on a 23 hour flight to start his new life in San Diego. He eventually transferred from Alliant International University to Mesa College.  When asked why he chose Mesa, he said, “Because it is one of the most successful academic institutions in California. The College has excellent programs and great services.” 

He has been engaged in student life at Mesa and remains an active member of the Black and African American Student Club. In 2021 he was awarded the Dietschman Scholarship, for which he was very grateful, and has maintained a GPA of 3.5. Zuber also expressed gratitude to many of his instructors, “Professors Connie Renda, Holly Jagielinski, Elvia Esquer, Susanne Kuleck, Marci Arkin, Randia Pope, and others: my gratitude to you for all you have done, which I will never forget. I truly appreciate you and the time you spent helping me on many occasions. Thank you very much for the courses. I enjoyed every minute of your lectures as well as your marvelous senses of humor.”

After graduating from Mesa later this month, he will transfer to either UC San Diego or San Diego State University and he plans to pursue a career in Health Information Management. About the next chapter of his life, Zuber reflects, “My future goal involves growing with a company where I work, contributing to that company, and taking care of my family.”


Tags: Mesa Students, Graduating Olympians, Johar Zuber