Christian Appiah-Knudsen

I grew up in a three-house village in Ghana. I lived with my grandmother, who couldn’t work, and a severely alcoholic mother. From a young age, I had to sacrifice my childhood to become a hunter so that I could provide for my family. In order for me to become a hunter, I was put in a big football-sized field. My hunter-leader would tell me to run to the closest nearby tree and climb it as fast as I could. They would then release wild hunting dogs into the field from every angle to chase me. If I didn’t make it to my target fast enough, the dogs would catch up and bite and scratch my legs and arms. I have scars tracing up and down my legs from those days. 

At a young age, my mother used to disappear from our lives for years. One day she reappeared and informed me that she would be taking me to the biggest city in Ghana to see a car for the first time in my life, which was my life’s dream. I loved every moment of it, but my mother had a different agenda. At 11 years old, my mother smuggled me into Belgium. Upon arrival, I informed my mother that I was hungry and wanted food. She told me to stay where I was, and that she would bring back food. I watched her walk across the street, and then I never saw her again.  

This led me to a two-year stay in a detention center for refugees. An American diplomat family found me worthy of their love and adopted me at age 17. Not only did they adopt me, but they adopted my two siblings as well. It was then that I attended school for the first time.

Our adopted family enrolled us in the biggest international school in Brussels, Belgium. My brother and I were both given a paper and pen to test our intellect for placement purposes. We were given 30 minutes. I was only able to write one line: “My name is Christian Kimball Appiah-Knudsen.” My brother, on the other hand, was writing like crazy. He wrote three pages in 30 minutes. I was very discouraged by this situation — that he was so smart, and I wasn’t able to write anything at all. I was down on myself. Instead of being proud for learning to survive in a new country, for learning to communicate in a new language, for becoming someone an American diplomat found worthy of love, I found myself feeling dumb and unworthy.

My new adoptive mom saw the discouragement from this placement test written all over my face. That night she called me to her room and handed me a copy of Abraham Lincoln’s book. She told me that Abraham Lincoln was a man who never had a formal education but became a self-taught lawyer and eventually the president. She told me if he could do it, I could become whatever I wanted to be. I carried that book around for years even though I still wasn’t able to read it.

When I turned 18, my parents sent me to Utah in pursuit of my GED. I failed a lot in my life, and some of these failures were miserable. This proved to be one of them. I took the GED test five times and failed each time. Finally, in 2008, I passed and received my GED.

At the time when I applied to continue my education, no other university in Utah thought I was fit to attend except Utah Valley University. I was able to enroll in 2008. It took me eight years to graduate. During those eight years, my friends from African countries all over were graduating within a few years. They were completing not only their bachelor’s but also their master’s degrees, and I was barely beginning my first day of college. 

People used to call me the grandpa of UVU because of how long I stayed. I continually failed so many classes and ended up with multiple academic warnings. I didn’t even know what a research paper was when I began. But I didn’t give up. I went to friends for help. I often stayed up until 1 or 2 a.m. studying. I knew what I wanted to achieve. Even after all of those failures, I was able to succeed. In 2016, I graduated from UVU with a bachelor’s in communication

This quote sums up everything for me, “Your circumstances may not be your choosing. But your future depends on your own choices.” Today, I’m a proud father of two amazing children. I work for Cisco Systems, the worldwide leader in IT, networking, and cybersecurity solutions. I have also started my own motivational speaking company called “Do Your Why,” soon to be rebranded as “Live Your Rhythm.” I know without a doubt in my mind that staying determined can change any situation for the better. It won’t always be easy, and you may fail, but it is the response to failure that will help create your path and allow you to live your authentic self. So Live Your Rhythm!