Community helps senior reunite with mother


Caroline Cooney

Senior Mike Tertsea poses with his mother, Felicia Ikpum, after the Baccalaureate Mass. With the help of the senior class and faculty members, Ikpum was able to fly from Nigeria in order to reunite with Tertsea and see him receive his diploma.

As senior Mike Tertsea stands in the Baltimore Washington International Airport surrounded by his host family, who have nurtured him and loved him during his time in America, excitement and happiness envelops him. He eagerly scans the crowd for his mother, whom he hasn’t seen since he left his home in Nigeria.

Four years ago, he said goodbye to his mother, Felicia Ikpum, and traveled to the United States to pursue his basketball and educational career. While he dreamed of seeing his mother again, Tertsea never imagined she would have the opportunity to travel from Nigeria to witness him receive his hard-earned diploma.

On Friday, May 20, Tertsea and Ikpum reunited for the first time in four years. When Ikpum finally caught sight of her son for the first time in four years, she let out a scream of excitement.

Mike never thought she was going to come, and she never thought she was going to come [either]. They didn’t think they’d get the chance to see each other until maybe after Mike graduated from college.”

— Shari Dettority

“When [Tertsea and Ikpum] saw each other in the airport, you’ve never seen anything like it. It was pure love [and] it was pure joy. Tears were just coming down my eyes,” Shari Dettority, Tertsea’s host mother, said.

Being separated from his mother, whose love and support has motivated and strengthened him, left Tertsea with a feeling of isolation. “Growing up, I never had anyone to look up to but her. To me, she is the best thing in the world,” Tertsea said.

While Tertsea and his mother talked over the phone at least once a week, neither expected to see each other in person so soon. “Mike never thought she was going to come, and she never thought she was going to come [either]. They didn’t think they’d get the chance to see each other until maybe after Mike graduated from college,” Dettority said. However, through secret donations and coordination, the senior class and faculty members were able to raise over $2,000 to fund Ikpum’s trip to the U.S.

Their generosity and dedication surprised Tertsea, his mother, and the community, but their act of kindness has revealed the selfless and generous spirit of the community. “JC is special… It’s not surprising [that we were able to do this] knowing the way JC is,” Student Government Association Vice President Katie Sullivan said.

After reading an article from The Patriot on Tertsea’s life and basketball career, senior Taylor Sommer asked a handful of seniors if Tertsea’s mother would be able to come to graduation. When Stephania Ortega said that the flight was too expensive for Ikpum to make the trip, the group, without hesitation, responded with an idea to make their reunion a reality. 

On March 2, after discussing a plan of action with administrators, Student Government Association President Kishan Patel and Sullivan held a senior class meeting during an advisory period when international students meet separately from the rest of the community.  “The support from the senior class was unbelievable… [We] really saw how we were all connected by love, no matter religion, background, or hobbies,” Patel said.

The pair asked their peers to bring in $10 on the day of Senior Retreat and give it to the senior class officers disguised as “lunch money,” in an attempt to keep Ikpum’s visit a surprise. By the time Senior Retreat was over, the class had raised about $1,400. With the money they had raised, the seniors were able to book Ikpum’s plane ticket to America.

Once they had booked her flight, they realized that they needed an additional $500 to make her trip possible. The senior class was determined to make Tertsea’s dream possible and turned to the faculty.

Patel went to Principal Madelyn Ball to ask permission to send the faculty an email about donating. According to Patel, after he finished explaining the plan, Ball wrote a check for $200 without a second thought. Through her and other faculty members’ generous donations, the money was raised in almost a day and a half. The faculty’s donations made sure that Tertsea’s mother would have the opportunity to see her son graduate.

I know God brought me here, but I just don’t know how to say thank you.”

— Felicia Ikpum

When Ikpum, who didn’t know that her visit was meant to be a surprise, finalized the plans for her trip, she told Tertsea that she was coming to the U.S. to see him graduate. Tertsea could hardly believe that his class could make something as miraculous as this happen.

“The first time I heard about [the senior class funding my mom’s visit], I thought it was some kind of joke. I didn’t expect them to pull up that kind of money,” he said.

Both Tertsea and Ikpum expressed their deep gratitude to the community for making this seemingly impossible feat become a reality. “I know God brought me here, but I just don’t know how to say thank you,” Ikpum said as she blinked back tears.

Dettority is still amazed by the unselfish nature of the community. “John Carroll did an amazing thing. I’ve never known a school that did what this school has been able to do. They just gave from the heart and opened their wallets out of love,” she said.

This generosity has created a long-lasting impact on Tertsea and he will never be able to forget the love the senior class has shown him. “We don’t treat each other as friends, but like family,” Tertsea said.

Grace Mottley and Caroline Cooney are a News Editor and an In-Focus Editor for The Patriot and