A role in a church play. Hearing in passing about a career as a linguist. These two small events set Ekeme Ekanem’s life on two completely different courses, but Phi Theta Kappa has helped her keep them connected.
Ekeme was born in Buffalo, New York, to a Nigerian father and American mother. Her parents divorced, and she moved with her mother and older sister to Phoenix, Arizona, when she was 2 years old.
Growing up, Ekeme was the “school kid.” Her love of learning was strong, and her father’s heritage and culture gave her an early interest in anthropology.
She also developed an interest in languages, but it felt more like a hobby until her mother told her about a woman she’d met—a linguist who could speak more than 30 languages. Ekeme was intrigued and believed she had found her calling.
“I have learned the true power of communication and what it means to myself and others,” she said. “With every language comes access to another culture and, therefore, perspective.”
Ekeme felt her path was set until her role in a church play. She was bitten by the acting bug at 8, but again it seemed to be more of a hobby. Meeting a friend who had an agent, however, gave her a new drive.
She begged her mother to let her start acting. She got an agent and booked a local commercial almost right away. This was easy, she thought, and she was hooked.
“I fell in love with becoming a character,” she said.
Ekeme attended a performing arts high school. She was initially drawn to ballet—a good combination for her love of dancing and acting—but she was told she “didn’t have the feet for it.” She shifted her focus to drama and completed her high school proficiency exam at 16 so she and her family could move to Los Angeles, where she would pursue acting full time.
Still, her love of education pulled at her.
“I knew I wanted to do acting, but I knew I wanted to pursue an education too,” she said.
Ekeme enrolled at Los Angeles Pierce College so she could work on her degree in linguistics while going on auditions. She joined the Anthropology Society to meet students sharing her major, but she still felt disconnected.
“I was doing well in my classes, but I felt like acting was keeping me away from connecting with my campus,” she said.
In the spring semester of her freshman year, Ekeme joined Phi Theta Kappa. She wanted to be a more eligible and attractive transfer student, and she was drawn in by the scholarships and other opportunities—Ekeme was selected to the Pearson Student Advisory Board in 2016.
She also saw it as a way to both get more involved on campus and give back to her community, which she views as “one of the most important things you can do.”
“If you want to see a better place and more of a community, it makes sense to be a source of that,” she said. “I’ve been really impressed with the students I’ve met and how focused they are.”
At 20, Ekeme has been focusing on her acting career for three years now, and she’s had roles in the FX series “Married,” Lifetime movie “Stalked by My Doctor,” and ION Television movie “Merry Ex-Mas.” She admits she wasn’t entirely prepared for the roller coaster ride that acting has been, but she said it’s taught her a lot about who she is and how resilient she can be.
“It’s a balance,” she said. “You have to expect to hear no, but you don’t let it stop you.”
She remains focused on her education as well. She’s learning Spanish and French, and next up is Mandarin. She’ll graduate this spring.
And because Ekeme plans to stay in the Los Angeles area to continue acting, she’s applying to four-year colleges like UCLA and the University of California, Berkeley so she can work toward her doctorate in linguistics.
“It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to go as far in education as I can go,” she said. “It’s always been what I’ve loved.”
Photo provided by Pearson