Yani Nganzobo: UMaine Machias 2022 Valedictorian, says to ‘trust the process’ 

Before she arrived at the University of Maine Machias, Yani Nganzobo said that she wasn’t an exceptional student. 

“I was never an A student. There were moments I cried because things weren’t going well,” Nganzobo says. “My perspective of life completely changed in the year 2019 when I arrived in Maine.”

But when Nganzobo arrived at UMaine Machias, she saw how many opportunities had opened up to her — and it motivated her.

Now, not only has Nganzobo made it on the Dean’s List every semester she’s been at UMaine and earned numerous honors and scholarships for her studies, but she will also walk across the graduation stage this spring as her class’ 2022 Valedictorian. 

Nganzobo was born in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa. She wanted to study in the United States, and applied to the University of Maine after hearing about it from a friend of her sister, Jeni (who also attends UMaine Machias). She eventually chose to go to UMaine Machias because of the generous scholarships that made her education affordable. 

“The school helped me with paying my tuition fees, I had friends who would help me in every way possible, and the community was very helpful,” Nganzobo says. “I wouldn’t get this far if my fees were not paid.”

None of her success would have been possible, she said, without the help of BJ Marshall, assistant registrar at UMaine Machias who was Nganzobo’s soccer coach at UMaine Machias before the pandemic shut down sports. 

“BJ [Marshall] was the one who walked me through the application process. She was basically like a mentor. me. She was there through thick and thin. She would take us international students out and if we needed something, she would buy it for us, like clothes. I didn’t know about snow boots. She’s one person who pushed me to where I am today.”

Nganzobo will graduate with a degree in business with a concentration in entrepreneurship with a certificate in HR management, which she started at the University of Johannesburg before she made her way to UMaine Machias. She plans to continue her studies after graduation and pursue an MBA at Maine Business School. 

“I know that there are so many opportunities,” Nganzobo said. “UMaine is like a community that helps people achieve their goals, making sure that students get as much help as possible.”

From there, the sky’s the limit. Last summer, she interned at Avesta Housing in Portland, and, based on that experience, she hopes to someday start her own business to invest in properties.

Nganzobo is ambitious and entrepreneurial, but her community work matters to her as much as school, volunteering for groups like Maine Environment Education Association and Gateway Community Services Maine. She also sings in the church choir at Machias Fellowship, where she attends service every Sunday. 

“Community work has made me a different person,” Nganzobo says. “It has made me an independent young lady.”

Nganzobo says that though “success is not for the weak,” part of what has made her successful during her time in Maine is the ability to get up and try even when the going gets tough. 

“Just because you are strong doesn’t mean you won’t fail, be in pain or be stressed,” Nganzobo says. “Don’t give up and keep pushing. Always trust the process and trust in God.”

Contact: Sam Schipani, samantha.schipani@maine.edu