"I had to look up moxie to make sure I knew what it meant. I speak my mind, in a way, I guess."
CHAMPAIGN — Lydie Maole left the Democratic Republic of Congo when she was 21 in search of a better life in the United States.
Now her daughter is graduating in the top 10 percent of her class at Centennial High School, headed to Northwestern University.
Yedidia Hubbard, 17, who was born in Champaign, will also sing at Centennial's graduation tonight at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.
"She's an outstanding kid," said Principal Greg Johnson. "She is incredibly bright and energetic, and has done an amazing job of involving herself in a huge array of things at school."
Hubbard sang in the school chorus, performed in musicals and talent shows, was president of the French Honor Society and treasurer of the Interact service club. And she was named an Illinois State Scholar.
As a member of the Math Honor Society, she also tutors other students in the subject. Hubbard enjoys math but is the first to admit she is "not the best student."
Still, she won the "Moxie for Calculus Award" from AP calculus teacher James Linnenberger. Johnson said the award is given to students who "persevere through difficulty, come at math with a tough attitude, keep pressing even though it's hard."
"I thought it was really funny because I had to look up moxie to make sure I knew what it meant," Hubbard said, laughing. "I speak my mind, in a way, I guess."
Hubbard attended Westview and then Stratton elementary schools and Jefferson Middle School before moving to Germany briefly when her father, Edward Hubbard, was stationed there. She and her mom returned to the United States after a few months when he was sent to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Her mom, the youngest of 13 children, had the opportunity to work in Italy as a teen through an internship with a company in Kinshasha, her country's capital, and decided to pursue more education in California. She traveled to the U.S. with a sister and later wound up in Champaign-Urbana because of the growing Congolese community here, Hubbard said. Eventually, she brought her parents over and they settled in Canada; they died in 2002.
"I think a lot of people from other countries just see America as a place of opportunity," Hubbard said.
For graduation, Hubbard will perform "Today My Life Begins" by Bruno Mars with a friend, James Akinleye, who is Nigerian. They will be accompanied by another friend on drums, Reis DeSantis, and choir teacher Marian Wyatt on piano.
Hubbard also sang at her church, and hopes to continue singing at Northwestern.
She has a $2,500 work-study grant for college but received scholarships covering the rest of the Northwestern's $60,000-plus annual cost, for which she was extremely thankful.
"I've wanted to go there since I heard of it sophomore year," she said.
School doesn't start until mid-September, which is fine with Hubbard.
"I get to see my sister off on her first day of middle school," she said, referring to Sarah, 11. She has two younger siblings, Seth, 10, and Rebecca, 4.
"My mom is into Bible names," said Hubbard, whose name is the Hebrew version of Jedidiah.
Hubbard, who is considering a career in dentistry, had offers from other schools but chose Northwestern because she liked "the vibe" of the Evanston campus and wanted to live near a city.
"She'll be a rock star there, I'm sure," Johnson said.
What: Centennial High School commencement
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Krannert Center for the Performing Arts