'Uncommon' Ekenavie set to do big things after Shea

'Uncommon' Ekenavie set to do big things after Shea

Shea High School senior Daniel Ekenavie, right, sits with his business teacher Emilie Mendillo. Mendillo says of Ekenavie, an immigrant who arrived from Nigeria four years ago, "From the moment I met Daniel, he just exuded motivation, confidence." (Valley Breeze photo by Ethan Shorey)

PAWTUCKET - Teachers and administrators at Shea High School say Daniel Ekenavie is one of those "uncommon" students who has "smashing success" written all over him.

An immigrant who arrived from Nigeria four years ago, Ekenavie is "crazy motivated" to do things no Shea graduate has ever done, said his business teacher Emilie Mendillo, and he makes those around him believe that it will all happen.

"From the moment I met Daniel, he just exudes motivation, confidence," said Mendillo. "Anytime someone comes to the class, he's heavily involved in the conversation, picking their brains because he's sincerely interested in what they have to say."

Now a senior, Ekenavie "always has something he could be gaining, something he could be learning," said Mendillo, and his attitude has been "inspiring" to his teachers and classmates.

Ekenavie, an aspiring entrepreneur, said his classmates "think I'm crazy" for wanting a career that's not tied to working for someone. Classmates believe that once he goes to college, he'll change his mind about working for himself, said Ekenavie, but he guarantees that won't happen.

Elon Musk, a South African-born engineer, business magnate and inventor, is Ekenavie's role model. The CEO at SpaceX and Tesla Motors co-founded SpaceX and PayPal. He is currently worth about $9.1 billion, according to recent estimates.

Does Ekenavie think he can make as much as Musk one day?

"Oh yea," he said.

Business plans are great, said Ekenavie, but "it's having the correct mindset that's more important" to success. Be willing to "think big" and "work hard," and he believes one can accomplish just about anything. Perseverance is key, he said, but too many give up on their dreams for job security when they don't succeed right away.

Ekenavie is currently learning everything he can about website design. He is working on a number of design projects, though none are making him money yet. Instead of asking for payments during his early years in web design, he plans to ask for a "portion of the companies" he sees potential in, said Ekenavie.

The standout student said he plans to one day own an aerospace engineering company. Like Steve Jobs and Apple, most of the money he makes will go right back into the company, he said.

Life back in Nigeria did not offer the kind of opportunities available to him now, said Ekenavie, and he does not intend to waste the chance that he has here in the U.S. The work ethic his father taught him from a young age will serve him well in achieving his dreams, he said.

Ekenavie's desire to be great can be seen in all areas in his life at Shea, said Mendillo. During a field trip to Johnson & Wales University, he was the only one to wear a dress shirt and tie because he wanted to make a good impression. During a trip to Broadway in New York, he was again the only one to dress up.

"Everyone was asking me why I was dressing up," said Ekenavie. "I said you don't ever know who you're going to meet, how they might help you in the future."

It didn't take long for other students to notice the difference the dress clothes made for Ekenavie, said Mendillo, as he was treated differently at restaurants and wherever else he went.

During an internship with the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, students wanted to know why he was asking so many questions. He's always asking questions, said Mendillo, always wanting to learn more.

"He always sees something he could be gaining," she said.

"I don't see it that any questions are stupid questions," said Ekenavie. "I see it as an opportunity to learn."