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Diasporian News of Monday, 25 October 2004

Source: JILL GARDINER - Staff Reporter of the Sun

Ms. Aidoo helps Out "Miracle Student "

A 19-year-old African immigrant who camped out in front of the New York Stock Exchange two months ago in a desperate attempt to raise money for college will share her story with her longtime idol, Oprah Winfrey, on national television this week.

In August, a week before she was supposed to start Barnard College, Mary Shodiya stood on Wall Street with a sign that read "Hello! I'm Mary. I'm brilliant. Columbia University agrees. All I need is a loan. Name your interest rate."

Miraculously, her sign worked. A Wall Street veteran helped her raise the $40,000 she needed for the first year's tuition to Barnard, a women's college affiliated with Columbia.

Tomorrow Ms. Shodiya's story, which was first reported by The New York Sun, will be featured on an episode about "Believing" with the queen of daytime talk.

"If you had told me while I was standing there with that sign that I would be on 'Oprah' I never would have believed you," Ms. Shodiya said yesterday during a phone interview. "I have literally watched her for years. I used to come home from school, make my lunch, and sit down to watch her on TV. When I saw her last week I was just thinking 'Oh my gosh, she's real!'"

The hand-written sign Ms. Shodiya was holding on that fated August afternoon caught the attention of Judith Aidoo, a Harvard Law School graduate with a vast network of contacts who took on Ms. Shodiya's cause and has since become her mentor. Ms. Aidoo, 41, has spent the last two months tapping her influential colleagues and friends for donations.

Ms. Aidoo e-mailed out a three-page memo yesterday updating friends on the latest fund-raising figures and announcing that she and Ms. Shodiya would be on "Oprah" opposite Tom Hanks.

"Mary got her first introduction to the big time: stretch limo, great hotel suite, VIP treatment for a day, and a brief meeting with Oprah, Tom Hanks, and Josh Groban on the studio set," Ms. Aidoo wrote. Much of the segment was shot in Ms. Shodiya's Morningside Heights dormitory and outside the New York Stock Exchange.

Ms. Aidoo, who lived in Ghana as a child and is involved with many African organizations, is now trying to buoy the fund-raising base she rallied for Ms. Shodiya to help educate children in Africa.

Ms. Shodiya was born in Nigeria and moved to Maryland at age 11 to live with relatives and attend school. She was a top student, earning 1,370 on her SATs. She was adopted by an uncle and was accepted by Barnard last year but was not eligible for financial aid because she does not yet have a Green Card. She lived with an aunt at Brooklyn and worked in a store, trying to save the necessary tuition money.

Ms. Aidoo, whose friends say it was no surprise that she stopped to inquire about Ms. Shodiya as hundreds of others passed by, has already met with two organizations that invest in African causes.

"We could send 2,000 children to school in Africa for the cost of sending Mary to Barnard for a year," Ms. Aidoo told the Sun yesterday. "We are delighted that Mary is living her dream, but for every Mary we've got to help 2,000 kids there. That is the ratio we are working with." When asked how she explains the sequence of events, Ms. Aidoo said: "I just assume it was God. She was in the right place at the right time. I never viewed her as a risk. She's an investment. We need people like her to be in a position to help the next generation when the time comes."