Living in Two Worlds and Examining Immigration in Four Nations
Caro Djakuduel ’23 is a woman between worlds.
As Davidson’s latest Watson Fellowship winner, she is headed to Mexico, Senegal, Germany and the United Kingdom over the next year to study barriers faced by Black immigrants. While they comprise one of the fastest-growing immigration groups, Djakuduel said, little is known about their integration processes and challenges.
For Djakuduel, the experience is personal—she and her family have lived it.
Djakuduel is a first-generation American, the only sibling among her two sisters and a brother born in the United States. Her parents emigrated from Chad, roiled by civil war, via another African nation, Burkina Faso. They settled in Silver Spring, Maryland, where both parents work for the Montgomery County School System in suburban Washington, D.C.
“I saw how they navigated barriers,” Djakuduel said. “It was impressive to me.”
She grew up in a household where French and her family’s Chadian dialect were spoken. Her early years were spent in a French-immersion public elementary. A lover of languages, she began studying Spanish at age 11 and has achieved fluency.
Like many children of immigrants, when she returns to her family’s home, she reverts to the household’s Chadian language and customs.
“When I’m at school, I live in the United States,” Djakuduel said. “When I’m home, I live in Chad.”
At Davidson, Djakuduel achieved on many fronts. For three years, she was a Division I athlete and holds school records in weight and hammer throws. She served as Black Student Coalition vice president and on the Student Initiative for Academic Diversity.
She worked as an apprentice teacher in the French and Francophone Studies department, and as a Residence Life hall counselor and residential advisor. She also participated in the Davidson Research Initiative focusing on climate change.
Djakuduel said she maintains a strict schedule to pack in all her obligations. She rises at 6 a.m., hits the gym every day and turns out the lights at 9:30 p.m.
Discipline and consistent action is my motto. I live it every day.
Gardner Roller Ligo, who recently retired as director of merit programs after a 40-year career at Davidson, is one of Djakuduel’s biggest fans. They met when Djakuduel was a high-school senior applying for a highly competitive Belk Scholarship.
“She was a slam-dunk from the beginning,” Ligo recalled. “Everyone who met her said, ‘Belk, Belk, Belk.’ You knew she’d change every room she walked into.”
Ligo said she’s been impressed by Djakuduel’s humble sense of honor leavened by a joyful zest for fun. “She wastes not a moment,” Ligo said. “I’ve never seen a student who worked harder.”
Djakuduel said she set her sights on the Watson Fellowship as soon as she reached Davidson. But Ligo said Djakuduel wasn’t sure she’d make the cut.
“How could she not?” Ligo said. “She’s a game changer.”
Congratulations to Caro Djakuduel '23, Davidson's newest Watson Fellow! https://t.co/1ziZR65rzh— Davidson College Office of Fellowships (@GradFellowships) March 16, 2023
Djakuduel is the 92nd Davidson student to be selected for the Watson Fellowship. Established in 1968 and administered by the Thomas J. Watson Foundation, the prestigious award includes a $40,000 stipend for international travel and research. Davidson is one of only 41 partner institutions invited to nominate graduating seniors for the Fellowship each year.
After her year abroad, Djakuduel plans to apply to medical schools. Orthopedics and dermatology interest her now, but she said she’ll wait before committing to a specialty.
For now, she’s doing the prudent thing for a woman who is going places: focusing on distant borders and keeping herself in shape for the challenges ahead.
“I take care of myself,” Djakuduel said. “If I’m not well, I can’t pour from an empty cup.”
The Watson Fellowship competition is administered at Davidson College through the Office of Fellowships. For more information about the Office of Fellowships or applying for the Watson Fellowship, visit davidson.edu/fellowships.
- May 10, 2023
- Mark Washburn