One Nation – Buay “J.B.” Tut ’14

Man standing with hands in pockets in courtyard.
Buay Tut posing on the campus of Stanford University. Tut, originally from South Sudan, spent several of his younger years at the Pinyudo refugee camp in Ethiopia before moving to the US. He studied at St. Olaf College, MN, before taking a student/ job position at Stanford. (Frederic Neema/Polaris) ///

From St. Olaf College’s founding by Norwegian immigrants to today’s “Dreamers,” the college’s commitment to immigrants from all nations is reinforced by its mission. In the most recent issue of St. Olaf Magazine, alumni and students share their personal immigration stories in the hope that Oles will continue to work alongside neighbors, friends, and strangers to welcome all voices and experiences to America. This is one story from that series.

Buäy “J.B.” Tut was born in 1991 in Malakal, Sudan (now South Sudan). In 1994, his family fled the country on foot amidst civil war, making their way to Ethiopia and eventually resettling in the United States in 2000. Tut’s family of nine, which includes brother Isaac Tut ’11 and sister Nyajima Tut ’20, moved throughout Iowa and Minnesota as Tut’s parents pursued meaningful work. Tut earned a political science degree from St. Olaf, where he competed in football and track and field. He holds dual citizenship in the United States and South Sudan. He has served with AmeriCorps, worked in admissions at St. Olaf, and currently is an admissions officer at Stanford University.

“My father is a Presbyterian minister and my parents were also farmers in South Sudan, so my early life was pretty peaceful until the civil war reached us in 1994. We — my parents and four siblings at the time — walked toward Ethiopia until a United Nations envoy picked us up. The envoy came under attack, often having to leave people behind as it attempted to get to neighboring countries where safety was.

“We spent five years in the Pinyudo refugee camp, applying for resettlement and undergoing daily medical screening, constant interviews, and background checks. Resettlement isn’t a small feat for a family of seven. Often families are given only one or two applications. It took a community effort for us to stay together, with friends and family giving up their own applications.

“We were resettled in Dallas, but within a month we had moved to Minnesota, constantly affected by the push and pull of my parents looking for manual labor jobs. Without proficient English skills, all they could find were factory jobs, mostly in meat-packing plants.

“We lived in Northfield for the middle school part of my life, and I got involved in athletics and started to connect with my peers as I was learning English. We moved to Storm Lake, Iowa, where I attended high school, but Northfield was the first town that I can remember not wanting to leave.

“[As a student at St. Olaf,] I studied abroad for a semester in South Africa and Namibia, in a program focusing on nation building, globalization, and decolonization — basically, how do governments meet the needs of people, and is a democracy always the best form of government? Always, in the back of my mind, was the question of how can I apply this someday to South Sudan, to be useful back home?

“I believe gratitude should lead to some form of service or giving back. I had a small taste of reconnecting with my culture and community when I returned to South Sudan briefly during Interim of my junior year. I met with the United Nations consul in Juba to look at opportunities to work in the government or education sectors, but unfortunately a new civil war broke out soon after within South Sudan, and that is still ongoing, so my plan to return is on hold.”

“Resettlement isn’t a small feat for a family of seven. Often families are given only one or two applications. It took a community effort for us to stay together, with friends and family giving up their own applications.”