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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Gonzaga Prep: On or off the field, Hugues Niyonyishu shows care for those around hiim

Hugues Niyonyishu
By Natalie Keller For The Spokesman-Review

For Hugues Niyonyishu, a senior at Gonzaga Preparatory School, life has been a juggling act. In addition to his studies, Niyonyishu is involved in leadership opportunities and athletics, helps take care of his six younger siblings and works at his dad’s cleaning business.

Despite the busyness these responsibilities add to the senior’s workload, Niyonyishu said he takes pride in helping his family.

“It makes me feel great because I know how hard my parents have worked for me,” Niyonyishu said. “Any little way I can give back and help them out is important.”

When Niyonyishu crosses the stage at graduation, he will be the first in his family to graduate from a U.S. high school. Born in Tanzania, Niyonyishu lived in Kenya for much of his early childhood.

Niyonyishu’s mother, Esperance Abumukiza, said the family’s life in Kenya was not ideal. The family lived in a small studio apartment with no bathroom, and Abumukiza said the child care conditions were “poor” and dirty.

“It was just really hard,” Abumukiza said. “Life was hard.”

The family immigrated to the U.S. when Niyonyishu was 7 years old.

Coming to the U.S. “was a little weird, a little nerve-wracking,” Niyonyishu said. “It was also exciting, coming to a new land, a new place of opportunity.”

During high school, Niyonyishu said he has taken advantage of that opportunity by getting involved in Margins, a service and justice organization. As part of this group, Niyonyishu traveled to Los Angeles in March, where he spent time learning about the criminal justice system and serving homeless individuals.

“Where we come from, we’ve experienced some of that poverty level,” Niyonyishu said. “Service and justice is giving back to those people who gave to you, because that’s how the world goes ’round. The more people who give, the more opportunities there are for others. And it’s a trickling effect from generation to generation.”

In addition to his service efforts, Niyonyishu has been involved in basketball, wrestling and track. However, football has been his athletic focus. Having played all four years of high school, Niyonyishu said he enjoyed his position as a linebacker and taking a leadership role on the team.

“(I’ve learned) how to be a teammate and be someone people can look up to,” Niyonyishu said. “I’ve had to lead a lot of times and just be that bigger person inside the locker room and on the field.”

David McKenna, a math teacher and football coach at Gonzaga Prep, said Niyonyishu is a positive figure both in the classroom and on the field and that he is proud of the senior’s accomplishments.

“It’s just a privilege to be in association with him, I’ll be honest,” McKenna said. “I look at him as my own son. It gives me an amazing feeling that I can’t put into words.”

Abumukiza also said she is proud of her son.

“He loves his family, and he loves people around him,” Abumukiza said. “He loves to take care of others. That’s what makes me so proud.”

After graduation, Niyonyishu said he plans to attend the University of Washington to study business administration. He then hopes to go on to law school and pursue a career as a sports agent.

Niyonyishu said he is grateful for the support of his parents, teachers and mentors.

“I would just say thank you for everything you’ve done,” Niyonyishu said. “I appreciate it, and I hope to pay it forward.”